Peace & Justice

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

Monday, January 30, 2012

Redistricting reactions

The proposed new legislative districts drawn up by legislative task force on redistricting were released last week and the response was, shall we say, not enthusiastic.

They have been called maps that resemble an art project at Satan's Kindergarten and clearly the most gerrymandered lines in recent New York history.

Common Cause says that the proposed districts egregiously disadvantage minority communities, abuse the federally mandated principle of 'one person one vote', and violate the constitutional provision to avoid crossing county lines whenever possible.

The Daily News opines, "Nothing less than the future of representative democracy in New York is on the line as the Legislature establishes new district lines based on the latest census."

There is more, much more, that we will be commenting on in coming days. For now, however, read these reactions and think about what you are going to do to restore fairness to the redistricting process. As people of faith, we believe that this is a matter of justice that must be addressed.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Do facts matter?

One of the reasons for this blog’s existence is the belief that when people have all the facts, they will act in a rational way. Apparently, that belief may not be based on reality. From the Boston Globe:
It’s one of the great assumptions underlying modern democracy that an informed citizenry is preferable to an uninformed one. “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789. This notion, carried down through the years, underlies everything from humble political pamphlets to presidential debates to the very notion of a free press. Mankind may be crooked timber, as Kant put it, uniquely susceptible to ignorance and misinformation, but it’s an article of faith that knowledge is the best remedy. If people are furnished with the facts, they will be clearer thinkers and better citizens. If they are ignorant, facts will enlighten them. If they are mistaken, facts will set them straight.

In the end, truth will out. Won’t it?

Maybe not. Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.
. . .
. . . it appears that misinformed people often have some of the strongest political opinions. A striking recent example was a study done in the year 2000, led by James Kuklinski of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He led an influential experiment in which more than 1,000 Illinois residents were asked questions about welfare — the percentage of the federal budget spent on welfare, the number of people enrolled in the program, the percentage of enrollees who are black, and the average payout. More than half indicated that they were confident that their answers were correct — but in fact only 3 percent of the people got more than half of the questions right. Perhaps more disturbingly, the ones who were the most confident they were right were by and large the ones who knew the least about the topic. (Most of these participants expressed views that suggested a strong antiwelfare bias.)

The rest of this fascinating article is here.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Help for Haiti

Catholic News Service has a blog posting on the situation in Haiti, now more than two years after it was struck by a powerful earthquake:
. . . More than 316,000 people died; an estimated 500,000 people — a third of the original 1.5 million people left homeless — remain in tattered shelters in hundreds of settlements in and around the capital of Port-au-Prince.

While a sizable amount of rubble from collapsed buildings has been removed, the capital still bears signs of the destruction with structures askew and little reconstruction in place. The collapsed National Palace, which housed the offices of the president, still sits silently across from Champs de Mars Park, where 20,000 people remain camped. The scene serves as a stark reminder of the perilous struggle Haiti faces.

Aid workers and other observers find any progress distressingly slow. About $2.4 billion of the $4.5 billion pledged by the world’s governments meeting in New York two months after the quake has been received, the United Nations Office of the Special Envoy to Haiti reported. Even less actually has been spent.

To learn more, go here.

What, you might ask, have Catholics been doing to help?
Catholic Relief Services reports that it has:
- Built 10,600 transitional shelters

- Provided 10 million meals to more than 1 million people

- Organized medical teams that performed more than 1,000 emergency surgeries and conducted 71,000 outpatient consultations

- Helped workers crush enough rubble to fill almost 1,800 dump trucks

- Hired more than 12,000 people in temporary cash-for-work programs

To learn what you can do, go here.

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Sunday, January 15, 2012


James Acker, a professor at the University at Albany’s School of Criminal Justice, and psychologist Allison Redlich have a new book called “Wrongful Conviction: Law, Science, and Policy.” He was interviewed in the Troy Record about his book and his work with David Kaczynski and New Yorkers for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, whose offices are in the diocesan Pastoral Center.
Now that New York no longer has the death penalty, a portion of David's energies have been channeled toward bringing communities together to help prevent and find constructive solutions to violent crime. Along with others at the School of Criminal Justice, I have begun working with David and his colleagues at NYADP to try to gain a deeper understanding of what family members experience following the murder of a loved one and how the criminal justice system and other resources can help be responsive to their needs.

The entire interview is here.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Americans' views on immigration

What do Americans really think about immigration and immigrants? A new survey from Public Religion Research Institute offers some answers.
Americans’ views on immigration policy are complex, but when Americans are asked to choose between a comprehensive approach to immigration reform that couples enforcement with a path to citizenship on the one hand, and an enforcement and deportation only approach on the other, Americans prefer the comprehensive approach to immigration reform over the enforcement only approach by a large margin (62 percent vs. 36 percent).

. . .

Americans express strong support for the basic tenets of the DREAM Act: allowing illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status if they join the military or go to college

. . .

The survey findings suggest that we are in the midst of a struggle over what growing religious, racial and ethnic diversity means for American politics and society, and that partisan and ideological polarization around these questions will make them difficult to resolve.
You can read more here.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

National Migration Week

This is National Migration Week. From the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

Just as on the road to Emmaus, Christ's disciples met him in the guise of a stranger, this year's theme helps remind us that Christ makes himself present to each of us in the lonesome traveler, the newcomer, and the migrant. We are called to open our hearts and provide hospitality to those in need. It is our duty to create a space of welcome and acceptance to the migrant who finds himself or herself far away from home and in a vulnerable situation.

Go here for more information and resources.

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Monday, January 09, 2012

A Pedagogy of Hope

Over at the blog Catholic Moral Theology, Jessica Wrobleski, a professor at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, has an entry titled Developing a Pedagogy of Hope in 2012. Fortunately, the article is better than the title.
Recently, I was beginning work on the syllabus for RST 230: Catholic Social Thought (which fulfills a general education requirement, and is one of my favorite classes to teach) when I read Pope Benedict XVI’s Message for World Day of Peace 2012, “Educating Young People in Justice and Peace.” As someone who feels called to work in Catholic undergraduate education (and who still counts herself among the “young”), I could not help but feel a particular challenge from this year’s message: how can I more effectively contribute to my students’ education in freedom and truth, in justice and peace and hope in the year ahead?
. . .

I’ll admit, I have found that cultivating a true hope—and not simply naïve or false optimism—is one of the greatest challenges of educating youth in justice and peace. I sometimes struggle with how it is possible to open students’ eyes and hearts to the world’s injustice and violence—the depths of global inequalities of opportunity and development, the injustice and danger of an industrial food system and excessive dependence on fossil fuels, the trauma of generations of people who have never known life without daily threats of violence and conflict and war—without smothering the hope that must nurture and carry forth action on behalf of justice and peace. In my brief experience as a teacher of Catholic Social Thought, I have found that it is not difficult to awaken students to the need for justice and peace in the world, but they often feel overwhelmed by the magnitude and complexity of the issues involved. With each subsequent semester that I have taught this course, I have deliberately tried to foster a pedagogy that can call forth hope as well as teaching truth. I offer a few thoughts toward this end here—by no means as an expert, but rather in the spirit of seeking and sharing in collected wisdom—with the hope that others will do so as well in comments or in other posts here.
The entire blog post is here.

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Sunday, January 08, 2012

Who are "the one percent?"

CNN Money reports that Americans make up half of the world's richest 1%, although it is important to read the entire article to get the full picture:
The United States holds a disproportionate amount of the world's rich people.

It only takes $34,000 a year, after taxes, to be among the richest 1% in the world. That's for each person living under the same roof, including children. (So a family of four, for example, needs to make $136,000.)

So where do these lucky rich people live? As of 2005 -- the most recent data available -- about half of them, or 29 million lived in the United States, according to calculations by World Bank economist Branko Milanovic in his book The Haves and the Have-Nots.
. . .

The true global middle class, falls far short of owning a home, having a car in a driveway, saving for retirement and sending their kids to college. In fact, people at the world's true middle -- as defined by median income -- live on just $1,225 a year. (And, yes, Milanovic's numbers are adjusted to account for different costs of living across the globe.)

In the grand scheme of things, even the poorest 5% of Americans are better off financially than two thirds of the entire world.
The rest of the article is here.


Thursday, January 05, 2012

Catholic Conference Announces Legislative Agenda

The New York State Catholic Conference Legislative Agenda for 2012 is available on-line. From the Introduction:
In his encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”), Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, “To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity. The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbors, the more effectively we love them.”

One of the ways we as Bishops attempt to fulfill this requirement is through the work of the New York State Catholic Conference, which exists for the very purpose of pursuing justice by working within the legislative arena. The Conference helps to shape public policies that protect and enhance the dignity of all people, from the very beginning of life until the natural end. Such work must not be left to the Catholic Conference alone; all Catholics have a duty to be engaged in the public square and to put the common good ahead of party politics. Catholic teaching cannot be labeled or dismissed as simply conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. In all things, we must ask, “Does this policy enhance the dignity of the poor, the vulnerable, the sick, the elderly, children, the imprisoned, those least among us?” For as our Lord taught us, what we do to these, we do to Him.

While policy issues can often be complex, our guiding principles are not. Thankfully, the Church has outlined seven easy-to-understand principles of Catholic Social Teaching that guide us in the formation of our positions on public policy matters. They are:

Respect for the Life and Dignity of the Human Person
A Call to Family, Community and Participation
Recognition of Human Rights and Responsibilities
Special Concern for the Poor and Vulnerable
The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
Solidarity With Our Brothers and Sisters
Care for God’s Creation
Read more here.


Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Top 10 religion and politics stories to watch

Last week, at the Georgetown/On Faith blog of The Washington Post, Georgetown University Professor Jacques Berlinerblau posted an entry titled Top 10 religion and politics stories to watch. We were struck by #5:
5. Catholics and Evangelicals Don’t Always Lock Arms: Yet the Christian Right is far less juggernautlike when Catholics don’t come along for the ride. On at least two occasions in 2011, the nearly unstoppable political duo of Conservative Evangelicals and Catholics, showed signs of fracturing. The Catholic Church did not sign on to the aforementioned Personhood Amendments [#6] nor to the 9/11 controversy [#7]. The lesson going forward is clear: without massive Catholic buy-in, the Christian Right has a hard time achieving its goals.
There is a lesson in there, somewhere.


Monday, January 02, 2012

The sounds of silence

The writer Pico Iyer, who likes to spend time at a Benedictine hermitage, has published an interesting article in The New York Times about getting away from our electronic devices to enter a world of stillness, and about how it is becoming, of all things, trendy.
. . . I read an interview with the perennially cutting-edge designer Philippe Starck. What allowed him to remain so consistently ahead of the curve? “I never read any magazines or watch TV,” he said, perhaps a little hyperbolically. “Nor do I go to cocktail parties, dinners or anything like that.” He lived outside conventional ideas, he implied, because “I live alone mostly, in the middle of nowhere.”

Around the same time, I noticed that those who part with $2,285 a night to stay in a cliff-top room at the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur pay partly for the privilege of not having a TV in their rooms; the future of travel, I’m reliably told, lies in “black-hole resorts,” which charge high prices precisely because you can’t get online in their rooms.

Has it really come to this?

In barely one generation we’ve moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them — often in order to make more time. The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug. Like teenagers, we appear to have gone from knowing nothing about the world to knowing too much all but overnight.
While one of goals here is to encourage people to be involved in the world and in matters of peace and justice, we suggest that you begin the new year by reading this article and making time for stillness in your own life. There is a time for action and a time for contemplation. We hope that this article helps you begin to find the balance in your life.

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