Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Troy poverty rate up 63 percent

Kenneth C. Crowe II, staff writer at the Albany Times Union, writes about the latest census data about poverty in the City of Troy and the rest of the Capital District:
The estimated number of Troy City School District children living in poverty jumped 63 percent — the greatest among the Capital Region's large urban districts — between 2007 and 2010 as the recession gripped the economy, according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

At a time when schools face dwindling financial resources and pressures to hold down property taxes, districts are struggling to serve their neediest students.

"Obviously, we have to address the needs of the children. The way out of poverty is through education. We know we have to work harder to accomplish more,' said Troy Superintendent Brian F. Howard.

Double-digit poverty increases are typical for most local school districts as jobs have disappeared since 2007.
The rest of the article is here.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Another perspective on redistricting

Bill Hammond at the Daily News has an excellent column today on how Albany politicians have rigged districts to serve their own ends. It is an issue we have addressed many times in the past, including here, here and here. We will continue to discuss redistricting in the future. In the meantime, read this:
A new report from Citizens Union should throw a scare into all New Yorkers who still believe in democratic government.

The 114-year-old watchdog group has crunched the numbers and confirmed what your gut was already telling you: The disconnect between Albany lawmakers and the people they supposedly represent has gone from bad to much, much worse.

Because the powers that be have so thoroughly rigged the game for their own advantage, most members of the Legislature routinely return to office every other year after elections that have been reduced to Soviet-style jokes.

Nine out of 10 cruise by comfortable margins of 10 points or more. Almost a third are complete shoo-ins, facing either no major-party contender or no opponent at all.

And the races have gotten dramatically less competitive in recent decades, with the average margin of victory soaring from a ridiculous 33 percentage points to a laughable 51 points last year.

In 1968, just 1% of legislative races were uncontested. Last year, that number had skyrocketed to 19%.

Little wonder that the reelection rate for incumbents was 96% over the last decade — and 100% in 2006.

And little wonder that New York’s election turnout has dropped below 35%, the fourth lowest in the country. Voters know a con when they smell one.

The report traces these sickening trends to the heart of Albany’s incumbency-protection racket: the brazenly partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts.
The full column is here.


Today's political parties and the Donatists

Conservative columnist David Brooks was recently interviewed by Gail Collins of The New York Times. The subject was religion, although it strayed into politics. Mr. Brooks compares today’s Democrats and Republicans with the Donatists:
Did you know that even though they lived roughly 1,700 years ago, the Donatists were just like our two parties today. They were more interested in following their accepted doctrine than in looking at reality. Augustine smoked them in debate.
We hope that strikes you as interesting, and that it leads you to the rest of the interview, here.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Prayer of the day from the Sisters of St. Joseph:

A Thanksgiving Prayer

May there be spring enough
in your life to outlast the winter.
May there be music enough
to lift your spirits
whenever you need it.
May you be gentle enough
to comfort those who are hurting
but revolutionary enough
to bring heaven to those who need it now.
May there always be a friend near you
to bring out laughter and dance
and the child in you.
And may there always be room enough
for you in the palm of God's hand.
Happy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Updated "Work of Human Hands" Sales Schedule

The Commission on Peace and Justice is working with local churches to present the annual Work of Human Hands sale. All of the items being sold are “fairly traded,” which means that we participate in a system that not only aims to pay fair wages, but also creates long-term, direct trading relationships with farmers and artisans around the world based on dialogue, transparency, equity and respect. Fair trade is not about charity; it uses a fair system of exchange to empower producers to develop their own businesses and to foster sustainable development. We follow a set of internationally-accepted fair trade principles and practices that are designed to improve the livelihood of low-income people through alternative trade, including:
Commitment to fair pay for labor, equal opportunity for women, concern for the environment, respect for cultural identity, reasonable working conditions, and no child exploitation.

Here is the schedule for the rest of the year:

Dec. 3-4
St. John the Baptist, Valatie
All Saints, Albany

Dec. 7-8
Pastoral Center, Albany

Dec. 10-11
St. Vincent’s, Albany
Mater Christi, Albany
Our Lady, Queen of Peace, Rotterdam
Sacred Heart, Castleton


Monday, November 21, 2011

New York State Redistricting Process Draws Lawsuit

Thomas Kaplan at The New York Times is reporting that "a group of community leaders has filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to take control of the contentious redistricting process."
The lawsuit, which names Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders as defendants, asserts that the officials’ effort to redraw Assembly, Senate and Congressional district boundaries to reflect the most recent census “has stalled and threatens to throw the state’s 2012 elections into a quagmire absent court intervention.”

The lawsuit, filed on Thursday in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, follows similar legal challenges in more than a dozen states that are also in the midst of the often-bitter process of redrawing districts. In New York, it is the first major face-off in what seems likely to devolve into a chaotic legal battle, as well as a major fight in the legislative session that will begin in January.

A task force is working on drawing a set of political maps for consideration by the Legislature. But Mr. Cuomo has said he would veto those maps, because the panel is not independent. He has called on the Legislature to approve his plan for an independent commission; it has declined.
Redistricting continues to be an important issue, and we urge everyone to contact their legislators and ask for a process that does more than protect incumbents. The rest of the article is here.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ike and the military -industrial complex

National Public Radio has an interesting piece regarding President Dwight Eisenhower and the military-industrial complex, a term he used on Jan. 17, 1961, when he gave the nation a dire warning about what he described as a threat to democratic government. He called the military-industrial complex a formidable union of defense contractors and the armed forces.

Recall that Eisenhower was a retired five-star Army general, the man who led the allies on D-Day. He made the remarks in his farewell speech from the White House.

Here's an excerpt:
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist."

Speaking at the Eisenhower Library last year, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates — who kept a portrait of the former general in his office at the Pentagon – talked about America's insatiable appetite for more and more weapons:
"Does the number of warships we have, and are building, really put America at risk, when the U.S. battle fleet is larger than the next 13 navies combined — 11 of which are our partners and allies?

Is it a dire threat that by 2020, the United States will have only 20 times more advanced stealth fighters than China?

These are the kinds of questions Eisenhower asked as commander-in-chief. They are the kinds of questions I believe he would ask today."
There is more to learn, here.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Themes Of Catholic Social Teaching

The bishops of the United States tell us that the Church's social teaching is “a rich treasure of wisdom about building a just society and living lives of holiness amidst the challenges of modern society.” This social teaching has been articulated through a tradition of papal, conciliar, and episcopal documents, which most Catholics never have read.

While the depth and richness of this Catholic tradition can be understood best by actually reading these documents, the bishops have highlighted seven key themes at the heart of our Catholic social tradition.

Can you name one?

The list is here.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Are you brave enough to be a nun?

Two recent news articles highlight the dangers that nuns face around the world. The first article reports on a nun fighting for human rights amid the drug war in Mexico:
Even in a career full of threats and harassment, the day someone deposited four cats at her office door, all with their throats slit, stands out for Consuelo Morales.

"They were telling us to be quiet or we'd be next," she says.

That was 14 years ago, and she is still anything but quiet.

The 63-year-old Roman Catholic nun is one of Mexico's most indefatigable and effective defenders of human rights. As the country staggers into a sixth year of drug war violence, Sister Consuelo (as her colleagues call her) has more work than ever.

Mothers whose sons were last seen being hauled away by police seek her counsel. She leads marches and confronts state governors, prosecutors, detectives. She escorts victims past soldiers posted at government buildings and helps them file the kinds of complaints the authorities would rather not see: about the disappeared, the slain, the tortured, allegedly at the hands of police and soldiers.

The second article dealt with the murder of a nun in India:
Church leaders in Kerala have expressed shock and outrage over the killing yesterday of tribal rights campaigner Sister Valsa John.

The 53-year-old nun from the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary was hacked to death at her home in the remote Pakur district of the east Indian state of Jharkhand.
. . .
Sr. John’s brother, M. J. Baby said he had warned her not to return to Jharkhand when she came home for a holiday at the end of August.

“I told her not to go back after she told me about threats she had received,” he said.

The family believe the nun was killed by people connected to a mining company she was campaigning against.

Offering his praise to the dead nun, Kerala regional Latin Catholic Council president, Archbishop Maria Calist Soosapakiam said: “With her exemplary life and courage to fight evil, Sr John has shown us that we need to rededicate our lives for our faith and work for the poor.”
We recommend that you read them both, and pray for both of these brave women.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Examination Of Conscience In Light Of Catholic Social Teaching

To help us understand how our activities affect others, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has an Examination Of Conscience In Light Of Catholic Social Teaching. Some of the questions to consider:
Do I try to make positive contributions in my family and in my community?

Am I aware of problems facing my local community and involved in efforts to find solutions? Do I stay informed and make my voice heard when needed?

Do I support the efforts of poor persons to work for change in their neighborhoods and communities? Do my attitudes and interactions empower or disempower others?

Do I urge those in power to implement programs and policies that give priority to the human dignity and rights of all, especially the vulnerable?

Am I disproportionately concerned for my own good at the expense of others?

Do I engage in service and advocacy work that protects the dignity of poor and vulnerable persons?
The entire list is much longer, but well worth the read.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Join us at Occupy Albany

Good spirituality and good political activism have one thing in common; they should both resist evil and support that which is good. Members of the Diocesan Commission on Peace and Justice will do just that on Monday, November 14, when we go to the Occupy Albany site north of the State Capitol. We invite you to join us, from 8-9 a.m. and from 4-5 p.m.

We will be the ones with the banner that reads, Commission on Peace and Justice.

Clever, yes?


Friday, November 11, 2011

Blessed Are the Merciful

Rais Bhuiyan, a Muslim shot by a white supremacist in the wake of 9/11, describes how his faith led him to forgive his attacker, and the fight to block his execution, here. The white supremacist, Mark Stroman, later wrote on his blog:
"There is a man out there that has every right to hate me for what I did after the 9/11/01 events that rocked our world. This man, Rais, has come to the forefront in an effort to show the world how forgiveness and compassion overrule the human nature of hate. I’m envious of his actions and his kindness speaks volumes. He is an example that the human race should follow. Rais, I’m deeply touched by all you have said and that’s from my heart and soul."
To learn how the story ends, go here.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bishop cites importance of environmental stewardship

Catholic News Service reports that Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, spoke to interfaith leaders at the Festival of Faiths conference in Louisville, Kentucky, where he said that people praise, honor and serve God “when we care for all living beings by protecting the air, which is God’s gift to us,” in a November 7 address. The theme of his address was “Sacred Air: Breath of Life.”
“As stewards of God’s creation we can live more simply, using the earth’s resources wisely, reducing our consumption, working to eliminate air pollution and reducing our carbon footprint,” said Bishop Blaire. “In the end it just makes good sense to want to have clean air for our children and families to breathe and for future generations.”

In his address, Bishop Blaire highlighted the specific threat of mercury and other toxic air pollution to children’s health.
The entire address is here.


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Reducing wrongful convictions

Kevin Doyle, a lawyer who has defended capital cases in Alabama and New York, reviewed two important books for America magazine; one dealt with the convictions of innocent people, while the other was about the death penalty in America. The entire review is here, but we bring to your attention some recommendations to reduce the number of people wrongly convicted. The review explains why these are necessary.
• Police identification procedures should conform to written protocols, and each procedure should be documented contemporaneously. Ideally, officers unfamiliar with the specific investigation should conduct the procedures to prevent influencing witnesses with even unintended clues and cues. Judges should emphatically instruct jurors not to evaluate an identifying witness solely by the person’s certainty and not to imagine that the memory works like a camera.

• Forensic labs should stand independent of law enforcement and submit to external oversight in the form of periodic blind audits. “All examiners should be blind-tested for proficiency. The defense should have access to underlying bench notes and laboratory reports, and to their own defense experts.” Courts should stand guard against junk science.

• Before allowing a jailhouse informant to testify, a trial court should render a threshold judgment of minimal reliability. All police or prosecutor conversations with informants should be recorded; this will ensure full disclosure of deals struck and deter informants’ ascribing to defendants details learned from the police.

• Interrogations should be recorded, as 11 states and the District of Columbia currently require or encourage. Trial courts should scrutinize resultant recordings for hints of coercion or of the police’s feeding a suspect crime details the suspect then weaves into his confession. Minors and the mentally compromised should enjoy special safeguards.


Rhetoric versus reality

CNN is reporting that the candidates for President, from both parties, need to go back to Economics 101.
Every 2012 contender attended college. They all graduated. They went to schools like the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Texas A&M, Morehouse, Penn State and Emory.

But decades have passed since these Presidential candidates first stepped onto campus as freshmen. Is it time for an Econ 101 refresher course?

America's Econ 101 professors say yes. In their view, the candidates continue to offer ideas and policies that wouldn't pass muster in their classes -- populated by 18 year-old college students.

"There are so many economic 'misstatements' being made," said Jonathan Lanning, a professor at Bryn Mawr who is teaching two introductory economics classes this semester. "And it isn't confined to any one candidate."
Rhetoric is important to any political candidate, but it should never trump reality. The entire article is here.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Election Day

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and vote!

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Sunday, November 06, 2011

Archbishop Dolan calls for strengthening Catholic-Jewish relations

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan last week addressed more than 250 Jewish leaders at the annual meeting of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that fights anti-Semitism. According to Catholic News Service, he told them that Catholics and Jews should “promote religious freedom, defend immigrants, face a common threat from fanatics and advocate for civility in politics and society.”
Both Jews and Catholics are the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of immigrants, many of whom came to the United States to escape religious persecution. When they arrived, they carried little more than "the pearl of great price: their religion," he said.

Archbishop Dolan said both groups have been on the receiving end of religious bigotry and could stand together as advocates for the return of civility to politics and religion.
The entire article is available here.

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Saturday, November 05, 2011

Where have all the voters gone?

There is an excellent editorial in the most recent issue of The Spotlight, which has weekly editions in Albany, Schenectady and Saratoga counties. The editorial notes that voter turnout in the Capital District is roughly 30 per cent, not too far from the average number of Catholics who attend weekly liturgies. We do not claim that there is any connection, but we believe that both numbers should be raised – significantly. As we have written previously, that is one of the goals of this blog, to get people more involved in their parishes and in their communities.

The Spotlight editorial notes:
It’s certainly no secret Americans are not voting as much as they used to. Whether that has to do with quality of politicians, our go-go lifestyle or too much television, we can’t honestly say, but we can say this is particularly bad in local election years like this one.

To use a handy example, in 2009 something like 60,000 people across Albany County headed to the polls to select their local leaders. That sounds pretty good until you consider the fact there were nearly 200,000 registered voters in the county at that time, for a voter turnout of around 30 percent.

(Oh, and by the way, right now there are about 60,000 county residents of voting age who evidently haven’t even bothered to register to vote. The numbers are similarly poor in other parts of the area.)
. . .
At the end of the day what your local government is doing may very well have a bigger impact on your day-to-day life. Local governments pave and plow roads, maintain sewer lines and police our communities. They also levy taxes, so on Election Day the people who vote are literally controlling who is behind part of that dreaded property tax bill.

That’s really the crux of this whole diatribe. Your vote keeps politicians honest and working for you (and they are often very well compensated, we should add), and it’s simply stunning so few people are willing to take five minutes to exercise that control.

The editorial concludes:
If you’re one of the unregistered residents of this county, it’s too late for this go around, but registering is easy. Simply visit online or call your board of elections and you can get them whole thing done by mail.

To those who are signed up: Go out there and be heard.
We could not agree more. Read the entire editorial here.

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Thursday, November 03, 2011

Redistricting: the musical

The good folks at ProPublica have made a music video to address the complicated issue of redistricting. Thanks to Gannett’s Jon Campbell for posting it here. You are going to love this.


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Work of Human Hands Sales Schedule

The Commission on Peace and Justice is working with local churches to present the annual Work of Human Hands sale. All of the items being sold are “fairly traded,” which means that we participate in a system that not only aims to pay fair wages, but also creates long-term, direct trading relationships with farmers and artisans around the world based on dialogue, transparency, equity and respect. Fair trade is not about charity; it uses a fair system of exchange to empower producers to develop their own businesses and to foster sustainable development. We follow a set of internationally-accepted fair trade principles and practices that are designed to improve the livelihood of low-income people through alternative trade, including:
Commitment to fair pay for labor, equal opportunity for women, concern for the environment, respect for cultural identity, reasonable working conditions, and no child exploitation.

Here is the schedule for the rest of the year:

Nov. 5-6

Our Lady of Fatima, Niskayuna
St. Henry’s, Averill Park
St. John’s Lutheran, Albany

Nov. 12-13

St. Clement’s, Saratoga Springs
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Albany
Immaculate Conception, Glenville

Nov. 15-16

Campus Center, University at Albany

Nov. 19-20
Our Lady of Grace, Ballston Lake
St. Matthew’s, Voorheesville
St. Patrick’s, Ravena

Dec. 3-4
St. John the Baptist, Valatie
All Saints, Albany

Dec. 7-8
Pastoral Center, Albany

Dec. 10-11
St. Vincent’s, Albany
Mater Christi, Albany
Our Lady, Queen of Peace, Rotterdam
Sacred Heart, Castleton


Bishop DiMarzio on capital punishment

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn addresses the issue of the death penalty in the most recent issue of The Tablet, the diocesan newspaper. He writes:
The death penalty and its use will become in our own state an issue about which we must be educated. The Church has always taught that the right of self defense is both an individual right and a societal right. Society has a right to defend itself against aggressors, both externally by means of war as a last resort, and internally by those who are murders, serial killers, terrorists and those guilty of treason. The question for us as Catholics is not whether the death penalty is morally acceptable, but rather whether it should be imposed today.

. . .

The Church always must opt for the conversion of sinners, and prisons, once named penitentiaries, are places where people can do penance and change their lives. There is no better example of this than the case of the murderer of St. Maria Goretti, a teenage girl who resisted rape and was murdered by Alessandro Serenelli.Imprisoned for 30 years, he was truly converted during that time. He became a lay brother with the Brothers of St. Francis, Capuchins, and attended the canonization of St. Maria Goretti. There are other extraordinary cases of conversion. If the Church must be consistent regarding the value of life from the very conception to a natural death, the use of the death penalty is something that the Church should be against in our own day and age.

. . .

Whenever the Church enters into the public policy field with moral teaching, she puts out into the deep and risks misunderstanding and even alienation from some Catholics. Our consistent teaching about life brings us to the firm conclusion that all life should be defended and that the use of the death penalty in our own day and age is not necessary.
The rest of this important column is here.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

First Fridays for Food Security

What is First Fridays for Food Security? It is a Facebook event launched by the United States Conference of catholic Bishops. On every first Friday for a year, eat meals that cost only as much as is allotted for a family of your size by the USDA Modified Thrifty Food Plan. (You will need to divide the weekly cost by seven.) This plan is used as the basis for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps). Many individuals or families may notice a disparity between the cost of their normal meals and the amount allotted in the food plan. The “cutting back” that will likely be required in order to stay “in budget” can be considered a form of fasting. This month the focus is on Transforming Food “Deserts” into Sources of Health and Nutrition.
Transforming Food “Deserts” into Sources of Health and Nutrition
In many parts of the United States the visible abundance of food can be overwhelming. Often the subject of conversation, food options and advertisements flash before us countless times each day. Thus, most Americans have come to expect a large supply and wide variety of food at sporting events, theaters, parent-teacher meetings, and at virtually all social gatherings. It’s no wonder then that the well-fed majority is largely unaware of food “deserts” that exist in many poor neighborhoods in our country where fresh, healthy food simply is not available.

Take the south side of Syracuse NY, for example, where residents mostly purchase their groceries from corner stores, not supermarkets or farmers’ markets. For years community members complained about the lack of any grocery store within a five mile radius of their neighborhood. This situation forces many low-income residents to take on an added expense to catch a cab or beg a ride outside their neighborhood. Furthermore, community gardens are not a remedy in this northern city which has only a three-month growing season.
You can learn more here. Also, here is the Facebook link.