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~Stigmas, Formerly Incarcerated, will we ever get a real reprieve to live a normal life?~

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“When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive. We come back to life thinner, paler, weaker … but as survivors. Survivors who don’t get pats on the back from coworkers who congratulate them on making it. Survivors who wake to more work than before because their friends and family are exhausted from helping them fight a battle they may not even understand. I hope to one day see a sea of people all wearing silver ribbons as a sign that they understand the secret battle, and as a celebration of the victories made each day as we individually pull ourselves up out of our foxholes to see our scars heal, and to remember what the sun looks like.” ― Jenny LawsonFuriously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things

Michelle Jones served 20 years in prison for a heinous crime: murdering her 4-year-old son. During her two decades behind bars, Ms. Jones compiled a record of accomplishment that would be remarkable even for someone who had never been locked up. She published a scholarly article on the first prisons for women in the United States. She wrote a play that will open in December in an Indianapolis theater. She led a team of incarcerated women whose efforts won the Indiana Historical Society’s prize for best research project for 2016. Not best research project by prisoners. Best project. Period.

All of this helped Ms. Jones gain admission to N.Y.U.’s doctoral program in American studies, where she started last week. But Ms. Jones’s stunning record wasn’t good enough for top administrators at Harvard University, as this paper reported on Thursday. In a rare move, they overturned the history department’s admission recommendation and rejected Ms. Jones.

Ms. Jones’s remarkable story put me in mind of a similar one — that of Reginald Dwayne Betts, the Yale Law graduate whose initial application to the Connecticut bar was recently rejected. Mr. Betts, who was convicted of carjacking in 1996 when he was 16, went on to astonishing success after his release in 2005, including publishing three books, being admitted to a Ph.D. program and being accepted to all of the nation’s top law schools. Yet as he continues to pursue admission to the bar, it’s clear that what matters most is the crime he committed as a teenager.

Cases like that of Ms. Jones and Mr. Betts come at an inflection point in the nation’s history. After 50 years of prison building, more and more Americans are expressing doubts about the harsh policies that have made this country the world’s largest jailer. At the same time, some of the people who have spent serious time in our jails have such impressive resumes that they are penetrating the world of the elite. For so long, the world of “us” never touched the world of “them” in many corners of American society. Because of people like Michelle Jones, that is changing.

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What will the gatekeepers of privilege do when confronted with gold-star applicants who have a criminal record? Harvard’s answer — you can never outlive your crime — is an affront to a first-rate candidate and brings shame on those responsible.

But Harvard’s rejection of Ms. Jones (and my university, Yale, rejected her as well, though the reasons remain unclear) is more than that. It reveals the truth about why mass punishment persists and the lie we are telling ourselves about the possibility of redemption.

Here’s the thing about harsh justice in America. More and more people criticize it, but most eagerly shift the blame for who is responsible. I saw this repeatedly in California, where I just spent a year living and teaching. I lost count of the number of conversations I had with colleagues and friends about criminal justice in which somebody bemoaned the state of affairs in “the Trump states.” I responded by bringing up the fact that California led the prison-building movement in the 1980s and ’90s, and would share stories about a visit to San Quentin prison, located just across the water from San Francisco, where I met dozens of men serving life sentences. Nobody from the Trump states put them there, or is keeping them there, I would say. That’s on California voters and their elected officials. That’s on you.

I suspect that the administrators and professors who helped block Ms. Jones’s admission are a lot like my friends in Connecticut and California. They consider themselves liberal, and they think mass incarceration is a problem. Somebody’s else’s problem. Blame the judges, prosecutors, legislators, police, probation officers, prison guards. Just not us.

But rejecting an overwhelmingly qualified candidate like Michelle Jones for no reason other than her criminal record sends a clear message from the bastion of liberalism on the banks of the Charles: If something is to be done to make America more just and merciful, somebody else is supposed to do it.

It also exposes the way that our unforgiving system of justice has touched all of our institutions. In court, judges tell people that their conviction carries a sentence of years, or probation. The truth is far more terrible. People convicted of crimes often become social outcasts for life, finding it difficult or impossible to rent an apartment, get a job, adopt children, access public benefits, serve on juries or vote.

As eager as I am to champion Ms. Jones’s cause, I do so with one crucial caveat. Michelle Jones and Reginald Dwayne Betts capture our attention because of their extraordinary accomplishments. As compelling as their stories are, we cannot let these exceptional people become the standard by which we judge somebody returning from prison. You shouldn’t need to win awards from a state historical society to gain admission to a Ph.D. program, and admission to the bar shouldn’t be reserved for those who write three books and obtain multiple degrees.

Mass incarceration and its never-ending human toll will be with us until we come to see that no crime justifies permanent civic death. N.Y.U.’s acceptance of Michelle Jones is an example of an institution leading the way toward a more forgiving nation. Harvard’s rejection of her shows just how far we still have to go.

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“The stigmatized individual is asked to act so as to imply neither that his burden is heavy nor that bearing it has made him different from us; at the same time he must keep himself at that remove from us which assures our painlessly being able to confirm this belief about him. Put differently, he is advised to reciprocate naturally with an acceptance of himself and us, an acceptance of him that we have not quite extended to him in the first place. A PHANTOM ACCEPTANCE is thus allowed to provide the base for a PHANTOM NORMALCY.” ― Erving GoffmanStigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity

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~We Can Turn Mass Incarceration Around~

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You Just Got Out of
Prison. Now What?

A Cycle of Poverty and Incarceration

Poverty is the largest driving force behind what the Children’s Defense Fund calls the “Cradle to Prison Pipeline.” Most of the individuals entering the criminal justice system are at a financial disadvantage; about 60 percent of intakes into the state and federal prison systems report annual incomes under $12,000. These low incomes reflect higher rates of unemployment and the unavailability of decent jobs for people who lack a college education. During the past four decades, most of the growth in lifetime risk of imprisonment was concentrated among men who had not been to college. For many of these men, prison has become a normal part of life. According to the National Research Council, among African American men born in the late 1970s and who dropped out of high school, 70 percent have served time in state or federal prison. For white and Latino men in the same cohort, the rates of imprisonment are 28 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

Incarceration sharply curtails the economic prospects of individuals and the communities to which they return. In 2011, nearly 700,000 people were released from either a state or federal prison, and most faced a multitude of challenges on returning to “free” society. Parents with minor children may have accumulated years’ worth of child-support arrears or had their parental rights rescinded. With few assets besides the “gate money” provided at release (usually between $50 and $200), those who have been disconnected from friends and family face uncertain housing and homelessness.

Upon release from prison, returning citizens have few opportunities for work that will be satisfying and provide a living wage. The National Research Council reports that up to one-half of former prisoners remain jobless for up to a year after their release. Barriers to employment associated with having a criminal record include restrictions on licenses in certain professions and the loss of personal and professional contacts while incarcerated. People of color with a criminal record have a particularly difficult time finding a job, especially one that enables them to invest in their futures, in part because of the stigma that attaches to a record. Blacks without criminal histories experience job callback rates closely matching those of whites with a felony conviction.The National Research Council report suggests that “pervasive contact with the criminal justice system has consequences for racial stratification that extend well beyond individuals behind bars.”

Mass incarceration also has a significant impact on U.S. poverty rates. Had it not been for the dramatic rise in incarceration rates between 1980 and 2004, researchers estimate that the poverty rate would have fallen by about 2.8 percentage points, instead of dropping by only 0.3 percentage points. This translates into several million fewer people living in poverty.

Systems of Disinvestment Have Led to Increased Incarceration

Many people affected by the criminal justice system grew up in communities with schools and other public institutions that failed them. As states were dramatically increasing funding for corrections, they were simultaneously cutting or not raising funding for social and government services targeting poverty, such as public assistance, transportation, and education. State spending per prisoner is three times that per public school student, and prison costs exceed spending on higher education in some states. These patterns exemplify the pattern of disinvestment contributing to mass incarceration. Communities of color have borne the brunt of this emphasis on incarceration at the expense of education. Researchers have documented vastly disproportionate incarceration and criminalization of people of color, particularly black men. While people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for more than 60 percent of those imprisoned. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that one-third of male African-American children born in 2001 can expect to serve time in prison at some point in their lives, compared to 17.2 percent of Hispanics and 5.9 percent of whites; 5.6 percent of black women born in 2001 are likely to go to prison at some point in their lives, but only 0.9 percent of white women and 2.2 percent of Hispanic women.

At the same time, disinvestment in education, particularly in low-income communities of color, has reduced social mobility and limited access to the social capital needed to revitalize those communities. Incarceration’s reach has now grown too big to ignore, with stratification researchers characterizing incarceration as a powerful engine of social inequality.

Mass incarceration has, in the words of Todd Clear in Imprisoning Communities, “made disadvantaged communities worse.” Patrick Sharkey, in Stuck in Place, for example, links the high rates of incarceration with concentrated poverty and marginalization, racial stigmatization, and lack of investment and resources that are fundamental both for the positive development of children and the mobility of adults. The Justice Mapping Center has mapped the concentration of incarceration rates in disadvantaged communities all around the country: millions of dollars per neighborhood are spent to imprison residents of these communities.

We Can Turn This Around: The Transformative Potential of Investing in Individuals, Families, and Communities

The struggles people face when returning home, including returning to the same context that led to prison, increase the chance that they will give up on the struggle to achieve long-term financial stability through lawful means. But a movement to reverse this tide has emerged. Driven largely by directly affected communities and supported by the contributions of the academic community, this movement links the need for fundamental reform of the criminal justice system with the need for change in the public policies that have underinvested in low-income communities of color and over invested in the criminal justice system. These advocacy organizations and networks include the Education from the Inside Out Coalition, JustLeadershipUSA, and the New York Reentry Education Network. They are joined by a surprising convergence of public figures across the political spectrum, including Tony-winning composers, political conservatives, and President Obama.

Through this work, we have seen the transformative power of investing in people and communities. By investment, we mean both building financial stability and increasing capacity through education, social capital, and meaningful employment so people can provide adequately for themselves and their families. These forms of investment kindle hope among the formerly incarcerated (many of whom did not believe they even had a future) and enable positive contributions to families and communities. Providing resources, support, and capacity enables people affected by incarceration to invest in their futures and to become actively engaged in the effort to rebuild their communities.

Education is a key component of this investment strategy. Just as lack of educational opportunity increases the likelihood of poverty and incarceration, access to high-quality education plays a critical role in facilitating mobility. One study showed that almost all soon-to-be-released prisoners reported needing more education (94 percent) and job training (82 percent), while the need for a driver’s license (83 percent) ranked higher than the need for employment (80 percent). The link between lack of education and recidivism is strong. A bachelor’s degree reduces the likelihood of returning to prison to 5.6 percent, in contrast to 66 percent for those without a BA. For those with a master’s degree, the recidivism rate drops to less than 1 percent.

Programs such as College and Community Fellowship (CCF) have proved successful in supporting the formerly incarcerated as they move along the path to higher education. CCF supports women affected by the criminal justice system in pursuing a college degree by enveloping them and their families in support services while they complete their degree. CCF was the first reentry-based organization to use postsecondary education as its core strategy for moving women out of marginalized subsistence and into mainstream society. In addition to achieving an extremely low recidivism rate, these programs give people a sense of hope, a belief in the future, and a willingness to invest in themselves, their families, and their communities.

Early in its history, CCF noticed that students needed to build their financial capability to succeed in college and beyond. They found that their students held many misconceptions about financial management and lacked confidence to control their financial lives. These insights triggered a series of efforts to help students address their financial needs.

CCF first introduced a student debt and financial aid counseling program and later added credit counseling services. In 2013, CCF joined The Financial Clinic’s New Ground Initiative, a capacity-building initiative that helps New York City reentry programs embed financial development in their services. The New Ground Initiative focuses on improving the lives of formerly incarcerated individuals through a combination of financial development strategies that help build financial security and improve financial mobility. The New Ground Initiative trained all counselors working with students at CCF to integrate “financial development” strategies into their conversations and build financial awareness and training into all services. The Financial Clinic’s approach invites all staff to begin with their own personal financial security as a way to build this capacity.

Financial training provides CCF’s students with the tools they need to make sound financial choices and build assets. In one year of the New Ground Initiative, CCF pulled credit reports for 100 percent of participants and organized debt for more than 150 participants, including student loan debt. CCF staff worked with program participants to address defaulted student loans, pay down credit card debt, and increase credit scores. CCF also sets goals with 100 percent of participants and works with them to open bank accounts and develop spending and savings plans. By embedding financial development into their existing services, CCF is better able to provide their students with the tools they need to succeed and ensure the sustainability of financial development practices as a central part of CCF’s service delivery model.

CCF’s work with students also uncovered an important advocacy issue. For-profit colleges were using predatory practices to target individuals with records. Deterring these practices is now part of The Financial Clinic’s policy agenda.

As we move into a more progressive bipartisan era of criminal justice policy, we must not relegate those who have been affected by criminal punishment to the economic margins. We must find ways to increase their chances of success by providing reintegration services that offer more than transitional housing, transitional employment, and stopgap medical services. We have the opportunity to embrace a public policy agenda that builds on the successes of programs like CCF.

The climate of public policy reform in the criminal justice sphere has taken on new energy in the past few years. An investment-oriented strategy would build postsecondary education and financial capability services into the design of reforms aimed at reducing incarceration and facilitating successful reintegration. Too often, reentry programs and policies aimed at providing a “second chance” have neglected education, particularly post secondary education, as a core component of funding, program design, and accountability measures.

Building financial capability should also be a mainstay of criminal justice and educational initiatives. Promising policy directions include President Obama’s announcement in July 2015 of an Experimental Sites Initiative, restoring Pell grants for groups of incarcerated students around the country. This initiative was spurred, in part, by the leadership of the Education from the Inside Out Coalition, a national nonpartisan group advocating for access to higher education inside prisons. This kind of investment enables the United States to reduce incarceration and equip individuals, families, and communities with the tool to rebuild their lives and realize their potential.

So many people come out with so many good intentions. And every door is slammed on them… When you’re told no at the employment line, when you’re told no trying to get back to your family, or you’re told no because this community is unaccepting of you — you try to figure out where you belong. And for many, sometimes it becomes rough and you resort to that old stuff.
— College and Community Fellowship student

I can’t tell you how many formerly incarcerated people or poor people or people of color wouldn’t… invest a dollar to get $150 because you have to believe you’re going to be here at 65 to want to put away even a dollar for your future.
— Formerly incarcerated leader

On Quest for Democracy Day at the capitol in Sacramento, April 27, 2015, 250 people split up into 30 teams to visit legislators’ offices to advocate for legislation relevant to formerly incarcerated people and their communities.

Our Formerly Incarcerated Quest for Democracy (Q4D) Day continues to grow and evolve. This year we had over 250 committed people, many of whom were returning from previous years’ Q4D. We had around 30 teams of people advocating on legislation relevant to formerly incarcerated people and our communities.

Grassroots co-sponsors got a chance to educate community members about their bills. And Sen. Holly Mitchell as well as Assemblymembers Reginald Jones-Sawyer and Autumn Burke addressed participants. See the box below showing all the bills we were there to endorse.

It’s important to recognize the larger context of our quest: It is the drive for greater recognition of a class of people for whom democracy looks a lot different. We don’t have a guaranteed right to vote – if we move to another state we could easily lose it. We’re still struggling for the fundamental rights of citizenship, such as the right to sit on juries.

Recession Obsession

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The Canadian dollar has reached parity with the U.S. dollar for the first time since 1976. They are now equal in value. The euro also soared to its highest-ever level against the dollar, trading above $1.40 for the first time since the currency was introduced in 1999.

So why is the dollar plunging, and what impact does that plunge have on U.S. and world markets? Here’s a look at some of the reasons for the dollar’s fall, and the consequences

Why the Weak Dollar?

There are several reasons. First, there’s the difference between the interest rate in the United States — the one the Federal Reserve just dropped by half a percentage point to 4.75 percent — and the interest rates of other central banks around the world.

When the United States dropped its rate, other banks did not follow. Now the spread between the interest rate at the European Central Bank (home of the euro) and the Federal Reserve (home of the dollar) is smaller than it has traditionally been, and that has weakened the value of the dollar against the euro. Put another way, you would get a better interest rate return holding a euro than a dollar.

Second, central banks around the world have been diversifying their holdings away from dollars to euros, British pounds and so on. That means there are more dollars out there in currency markets available to purchase. More dollars floating around means diminished value.

What Effect Does This Have?

Look at the record-high price of oil. Even if the same amount of oil is being pumped out of the ground, since it is traded in dollars and the dollar has weakened, the price of oil has increased to make up for the lost value of the dollar, creating a sort of vicious cycle.

Oil-producing countries don’t want to keep all the dollars they are getting for their oil, since it’s worth less, so they are diversifying and converting their dollars into euros or other currencies. That pushes more dollars back out into currency markets, which in turn pushes down the dollar’s value.

One analyst told ABC News that Russia used to have 90 percent of its financial reserves in dollars. It now has 45 percent in dollars, 45 percent in euros and 10 percent in British pounds.

What Does This Mean in the U.S.?

The news is mixed. It’s good, because it makes what we produce here cheaper to sell in foreign markets, and that in turn spurs exports of our products around the world. That translates into more manufacturing and more jobs. For example, BMW and Mercedes Benz want to build cars in the United States, because they can do it cheaper in nonunion states than in Germany, where they’d pay labor and parts in euros, and then bring the cars to the United States, where they would be too expensive to sell at a profit.

For years now, the collapse of the dollar has been in the cards. Recent developments show mounting pressure on the dollar’s reserve currency status. With a major international deflation going on, the threat of inflation through money printing is unreal. However, should the dollar’s reserve currency status end, the repatriation of trillions of petro- and Eurodollars could lead to a strongly inflationary scenario.

The roles of a reserve currency are to finance international trade and to function as a store of value for Governments. Until the second world war it used to be the British pound, but with the demise of the British Empire, the pound lost its international relevance and was overtaken by the dollar. This was formalized in the 1944 Bretton Woods system. All other currencies were fiat currencies, but pegged to the dollar, which in turn was pegged to Gold at 40 dollars an ounce and redeemable for international trading partners.

We are seeing the advent of the new currency order. There will be a number of more or less equal blocks: a dollar zone, a Yuan/BRICS zone and the euro, with the Yen and the Pound as lesser entities. These will later be able to converge to even more ‘cooperation’, in the Money Power’s relentless march towards World Currency.

These units will be at least partially Gold backed, implying long term deflationary pressures. Central Banks are buying Gold in major quantities, creating the interesting question why Gold prices have not risen in the last 18 months.

Well it looks like we’re heading into some really tough economic times. You’ve already heard much about these high profile banks that have failed and a few others have merged just to survive. Perhaps you haven’t heard just how many other business mergers have been proposed in these tough times. For example:
1.) Hale Business Systems, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Fuller Brush, and W. R. Grace Co. are set to merge. The new name will be: Hale, Mary, Fuller, Grace.
2.) PolyGram Records, Warner Bros., and Zest Crackers will join forces and become: Poly, Warner Cracker.
3.) 3M will merge with Goodyear and become: MMM Good.
4.) Zippo Manufacturing, Audi Motors, Doofasco, and Dakota Mining will merge and become: ZipAudiDoDa
5.) FedEx is expected to join its competitor, UPS, and become: FedUP.
6.) Fairchild Electronics and Honeywell Computers will become: Fairwell Honeychild.
7.) Knotts Berry Farm and the National Organization of Women will become: Knott NOW!
And finally:
8.) Grey Poupon and Docker Pants are expected to become: PouponPants.

Well OK, that’s not happening. But I thought it might be good medicine to laugh a bit because these days, when it comes to the economy, we’re all a little panicked and afraid. And I don’t blame you. One friend of mine last month was trying to enjoy a wonderful vacation in Europe with her grown children when the news came of the stock market tumble. She said to me, “I just couldn’t enjoy the moment Aaron, because I was thinking about what percentage of my nest egg was blowing away like smoke.”

She’s not the only one in that situation. Small business owners in my church are concerned about laying people off. Some of you have been laid off. Milgard, laid everyone off. Bayliner is done in 60 days kicking over 600 unemployed workers into the job market. A person I spoke with this week, losing their dream home because they’re upside down on their mortgage.

WE FORGOT GOD’S PRINCIPLES
So now we have Republicans and Democrats jockeying for political position to look better than the other in the aftermath of this mess. I’m a bit weary of them all, frankly. Tons of fears and angry thots run through our minds in the context of a hot presidential race.
– Who allowed this to happen?
– What will the candidates do to fix it?
– What’s going to happen next?
– And in a pessimistic moment, we might even ask:
o Are we the generation that will be able to say that we were there when America ended?

So now, I want to weigh in on this, not as an economist but as a student of the Bible and a follower of Jesus Christ. You’ve had an anxious few weeks. You’re mad at the pride of our leaders. You’re mad at the short sighted selfishness in all of us that lead to this subprime mortgage mess. So there’s two parts to God’s wisdom to heed in our fear and anger. The first relates to the world of your finances and the second relates to the world of your heart.

1. FINANCIAL
A. BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES
I want to read some bible verses to you and I want you to imagine these were hung on the offices of every bank, every mortgage office and every home in the country.
– Prov 22:7: the rich rule over the poor and the borrower is the slave of the lender.
– Prov 17:18: It is poor judgment to co-sign a friend’s note, to become responsible for a neighbor’s
debts.
– Prov 30:25 Ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer
– Ps 37:21: The wicked borrow and never repay, but the godly are generous givers.
– 1 Tim 6:10: For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.

Have we lived by these principles? No. Not personally and not nationally. And now the piper must be paid. We cannot escape these principles, friends. God is not mocked, a man reaps what he sows. With God’s laws, you don’t break them. If you disobey them, they break you. And now, they may break our economy. If we keep going down the path we’re on, one Christian financial consulting firm put it like this:
Failure to heed the principles God has plainly established for our own good will destroy the good faith and credit of the United States government. Should that day come, the consequences will be dire. Our entire economy will collapse with sudden speed, bringing mind-numbing consequences to world order. To avoid the pain, we can print more money, bringing on devastating hyperinflation.

That’s the doomsday scenario, friends.

B. GET OUT OF DEBT
So what can you do? One, save.

Two, the time is now to get out of debt. The Bible does not forbid debt, as it gives rules for how to repay it. But if ever there was a good time to be in debt, now is not that time. And the Bible gives us so many good reasons to want to avoid it:

First, the simple truth, Crown of Life, Kansas Ave and communities abroad is that whenever you sign up for a debt of any kind, you’ve just surrendered a slice of your freedom. The Bible says, Proverbs 22:7: The borrower becomes the lenders slave.

A friend of mine was complaining about how they attempted to garnish his wages for a debt he owed that he had fallen behind on. So he closed his bank account to stop them. He didn’t like them just taking it. He wanted to be back in control.

Well this guy just didn’t get it. Debt takes control over you. It puts you OUT of control. The lender is not obligated to be nice to you. It’s a voluntary legal contract you enter into. And it’s a type of slavery. You don’t get free, until the debt is gone. So if you choose debt, don’t get mad when your freedoms are diminished.

Second, debt enslaves you to excessive earning pressures. Hag 1:6 says, “You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” Debt is simply more holes in your money purse. The more holes, the faster and more frantically you have to pour in.

Third, debt enslaves us to Joylessness. PROVERBS 12:25 says, an anxious heart weighs a man down. There’s nothing like debt pressure to rob you of sleep.

Fourth, debt ties your hands when opportunities to do good come along.

So what I’m driving at is that there are many things about the gov’t’s spending habits that might make you mad, but today is a good day to look in the mirror. Many things you can’t control, but this you can. You can seek to get out of debt as fast as possible and start to save.

Whatever the economy is going to do, this is what YOU can do.

So, friends this is a good time to take some radical steps:
– One, make a RADICAL DECISION TO END YOUR SLAVERY. No one “drifts upstream.”

– Second, analyze your current situation to see where the holes are in your purse:
o House is too big, car is too new?
o Hobbies, vacations? clothes?
o Credit cards?
Simplify.

– Third, get on a repayment plan. Good Sense is available. Sign up.

– Fourth, be generous with God. God invites you to invite him into your financial picture. The Bible says this over and over. Prov 3:9-10: “Honor the LORD with your wealth…; then your barns will be filled to overflowing.” Now, with the economy bad? Especially now! Tithing is an act of faith that invites God to bring supernatural power to reverse your situation.

– Fifth, please consider God’s financial laws as you decide who to vote for in this upcoming election. Anyone, at any level, running for office who isn’t talking about REAL and considerable cuts in government programs – and by that I mean, from the welfare state to the warfare state – is either a fool or lying about what’s coming.

So that’s very practical. But some of you are mired in this thing spiritually and emotionally and I have some even MORE practical news from you, from the Christian gospel. It’s good news! It will cheer you up and give you tremendous hope, if you receive it.

1. SPIRITUAL
A. ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE
First, this time of financial insecurity is a chance to get focused on forever things, and not temporal things. The American dream isn’t ultimate goal the Christian is shooting for. Neither is seeing America survive as a national, financial and military power. In fact, when some of those temporal things are taken away, we may get closer to our REAL goals.

Jesus said,
“what will it prosper a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul? What would a man give in exchange for his soul? …For where your treasure is, there will heart be also.”

It’s not an all-together bad thing to get a hard reminder that if we gained all that this world tells us we should gain, wealth, security, comfort… that that still isn’t what REALLY matters. I’m not saying you shouldn’t save money for retirement. You should. No one wants to be a drain on their kids or the system.

But what is the true point of life? The writer of Ecclesiastes says,
Eccl 12:13-14 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole [duty] of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

What is the bible saying, friend? It’s saying, this life is not the end. This life is not all there is to live for. The purpose of this life, is to live and prepare for the next life. And ironically that makes for an even richer life here and now.

My parents are volunteers at a college that trains foreign nationals for Christian ministry – in Hawaii. And these people come from the down and out places on planet earth. Malawi, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Pakistan, Peru. And my parents wondered how these people from destitute countries would react to the extravagant lifestyles that we live here, the meals, the cars, the homes.

They were worried that they would be so jealous and envious. They were worried that our wealth would be a stumbling block to them spiritually. They would surely say,
‘why o God did you put me in my horrible country where there’s no MTV? Where I can’t get a Twinkie when I want to, like my American friends? Where I can’t see news of the Brittany Spears saga. Ah, the injustice!”

Well, guess what? They didn’t say that. Friend, this will come a shock to some of you, but those church leaders from around the world look at us and they are overwhelmed with one emotion and it’s not envy. You want to know what it is? It’s Pity.

The pity us. Because they see so clearly that our preoccupation with this life is killing our chance at dying well. They think about dying all the time. In Malawi, the average person dies at my age. They find truth that totally escapes us in what Jesus said,
– Blessed [happy, lucky, favored by God!] are you who mourn
– Blessed are you who are poor
– Blessed are you who are persecuted.

Look, I understand that it’s a rotten thing that some of you might have had your net worth cut in half last month. I feel for you and I wouldn’t be happy about that either. But you and I can have a hope in Jesus Christ that draws us into the Life of God. It’s a forgiven life, a life full of joy and peace and hope for resurrection.

Can I just remind you of how many rich people have gone into depression, dove into drugs or self destruction or even committed suicide because they don’t have what the simplest, poorest Christian has in spades? Peace of mind. Peace with God. A heart full of joy and a family who loves them; Hope for tomorrow and no fear of death. Curt Cobain, Howard Hughes to name two.

Some people would give their fortune for the simple gifts that Christians take for granted.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

B. NO HOPE IN MONEY
I believe Christ might also use the market downturn as an opportunity to remind us that putting our hope in money is a bad idea. Today, I want to challenge you directly. If we are depressed or mad or fearful, then we have likely put too much trust in money and not enough in God. Perhaps this is a chance to ask yourself how you can move beyond.

IN the Bible it says:
1 Tim 6:17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain.

Maybe you never heard that before, but do you think God knows what’s talking about now? Does your money seem uncertain to you now? Money isn’t bad, but the Bible treats it like sex and power. Nice gifts that make terrible gods. And God would spare you the trauma of putty all your security into something that could vanish with one decision by the Fed.

So if your heart has been too wrapped up in your financial security, if your computer is following the Markets a little too closely and your heart is going up and down the roller coaster ride, friend, here’s a simple message: get off! You can try and control what cannot be controlled and go insane trying. Or you can trust God more than you trust money.

The Bible asks for us to store for a rainy day. And we should. But when did God ask us to bend our lives and our hearts out of shape to gain perfect security for tomorrow? It’s impossible. You don’t even know if you’ll be here tomorrow. So beyond reasonable measures to save, you will have to trust God for daily bread. And guess, what? That’s just the way God wants it.

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What’s Going On?

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A government, for protecting business only, is but a carcass, and soon falls by its own corruption and decay.

Amos Bronson Alcott

Are payday loans a good source of emergency cash? Thanks to misleading marketing, many of its consumers unfortunately think so. Corruption painted as help only in low income communities. Can you see what is taking place under the guise od humanity and helping others?

“Payday lending stores are opening their doors in low-income neighborhoods at a rate equal to Starbucks [opening its doors] in affluent ones,” states NAACP Chairman Emeritus Julian Bond to illustrate how payday lenders are rapidly sinking their roots into our communities.

Many payday loans trap consumers by encouraging them to repeatedly pay high fees for borrowing small amounts of money. The average loan size is $375; but borrowers end up paying about $520 in interest. And repeat borrowers, many who secure an additional loan to pay back their previous loan, account for 91 percent of all payday loans per year.

Single mothers, African-Americans and Latinos are overwhelmingly targets for payday loans, according to studies by FDIC and CFSI.

Mass predatory lending products and deceitful financial practices contributed to the 2007 financial crisis. However, with foreclosures being the focal point of the crisis, payday lending has not been discussed as prominently– until now.

Payday lending’s economic impact cannot be understated as it drains the economy significantly. A recent study by the Insight Center shows that in 2011, payday loans cost the U.S. economy nearly one billion dollars and thousands of jobs. Payday loans reduce household spending by taking away money that consumers could spend on businesses, which in turn fuels business growth and job creation.

Consumer advocates, along with state and local governments, are initiating efforts to protect consumers from these types of “debt traps” in disguise. The Obama Administration established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to help protect consumers from the disastrous financial products on Wall Street that financed and contributed to the greatest losses of wealth for the average American in modern history.

Recently, the CFPB released their initial findings on payday loans. Their report found that these loans are not used regularly for emergency cash – which could be easily paid back in a short period of time – but rather by those who do not have enough income to meet their regular expenses. The study concludes, “These loans raise substantial consumer protection concerns.”

This study proves that small dollar high-cost lending is predatory and unfairly targets the economically weakest members of our community. They exploit consumers’ inability to meet their regular financial obligations while stripping wealth from segments of our society that can ill afford it.

Financial institutions, including Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), have joined the CFPB in cracking down on the banks it oversees by issuing guidelines on their payday products called deposit advance loans. These guidelines require banks to better assess the customer’s financial capability to pay back a loan so the consumer can better avoid being caught in a debt trap. They also require that each deposit advance loan be repaid in full before issuing another deposit advance loan; and that banks cannot offer more than one loan per monthly statement cycle.

At the NAACP, we engage the community around predatory payday lending by connecting NAACP state and local units with CFPB national field hearings and representatives and hosting fair lending workshops nationwide to inform consumers of how to beware of these debt traps.

Whether payday loans are dispersed through storefronts or well-respected financial institutions, accountability is key. We are encouraged that government agencies, along with other consumer advocacy groups, are moving on all fronts to protect our communities from economic exploitation. Economic empowerment and justice are at the root of advancing racial equity. And we must eliminate barriers to economic justice like predatory payday lending, which weakens the economies of so many Americans.