Peace & Justice

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

Friday, June 29, 2012

What has Catholic advocacy accomplished?

Kathy Saile, Director of the Office of Domestic Social Development for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Steve Colecchi, Director of the Office of International Justice and Peace, have written a summary of Catholic advocacy efforts during the last six months, what has been accomplished, and what we can do to follow-up with our Congresspersons during the next several months. Among the issues discussed are housing, the farm bill, the federal budget, and international assistance. The summary is here.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

It's primary day

This year’s Congressional primary, which normally was held in September, is today, because a federal court moved the date to ensure that people in the military using absentee ballots were not disenfranchised.

Because of the change, campaign officials and political consultants predict low turnouts in primary elections for House seats and in the lone statewide primary, for the Republican nomination to challenge Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, a Democrat. Not that turnouts ever were that high.

Polls are open from noon to 9 p.m.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

The 14th Annual 2012 Kateri Tekakwitha Peace Conference will take place on August 17 and 18 at the National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine in Fonda. The theme is Crossing the Line: A Call to Revolutionary Love. Speakers include Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Kathy Kelly, John Horgan, Clare Grady, David Swanson, Matt Southworth and others.
Plain and simple, this year's conference is about love, revolutionary love. The kind of love that invites us to move beyond fear and isolation, to cross the line, to occupy squares, to change the world.  
We are also very pleased to announce that Bishop Thomas Gumbleton will be conducting a day of reflection starting at 9:30 AM, Friday, August 17th. The day of reflection, "Active Love and non Violence: The Only Moral Response to War" is a special and additional event.  
Within the last 100 years the world has seen some exceptional models of revolutionary love. Gandhi and King come immediately to mind. Profound and dramatic life affirming change, both in the way things work and the way people think, are the substance and effect of revolutionary love.  
For example, both Gandhi and King were instrumental in using the radical notion of nonviolent resistance to lead both the oppressor and the oppressed to a new level of understanding, a more equitable and harmonious state of living, which provided for equal rights and equal protection born of a new vision of "the other". Their leadership led to a transformation of heart and mind which in turn led to a transformation of politics and policy.  
Their work and the work of so many of the world's true revolutionaries, certainly hasn’t been completed nor perfected. Peace and justice still weigh in the balance, yet each moved us forward in a great turning towards an expanded thinking and imagination, premised on love as the guiding and foundational principle of real revolution.  
This conference invites us to ask:  
How do we continue to move forward to embrace the transformative power of this revolutionary love? How to continuously work to ground our thinking and actions in the reaffirmation of the most profound and challenging truth, the root of why we care, why we act: we are sisters and brothers all and everywhere, in truth, a beloved community.  
This conference also will issue challenges, for on this revolutionary journey, we contend there are lines to be crossed, squares to be occupied. Plagued with doubts, excuses, and often a very real fear of the oppressor's threats and violence along with the deadening fear that the status quo is inevitable and unchangeable, we find ourselves paralyzed, failing to speak out, afraid of conflict, trapped in isolation.  
Yet often it is equally true our fear is written within our own psyche and with our own hand. We must find the courage to cross this line - whether the source of the fear is external or internal - to take the needed risks necessary to express our deep love for each other and for peace and justice.  
While we often think of both King and Gandhi as fearless because of the tremendous courage they both demonstrated, it is well to remember that each moved us forward towards peace and justice because they embraced community and faced their fears with dignity, courage and grace as they crossed the line both - literally in directly challenging unjust laws and institutions - as well as spiritually by arriving at a new experiential understanding of our essential human inter-connectedness which is dramatic, life changing, vulnerable and creative, comprising the essence of and compassionate energy which we call revolutionary love.  
Please join us and cross the line to "Revolutionary Love".  
While we are a Interfaith Conference, certainly we would be remiss not to mention the extraordinary life affirming influence and understanding Jesus created with his call to Revolutionary Love!
You can learn more here.


Friday, June 22, 2012

World Refugee Day Statement

The Catholic Church in the United States represents the largest private refugee resettlement organization in the world, helping refugees of all religious traditions. For World Refugee Day, the bishops issued a statement that reads, in part:
Today, many nationalities are among the world’s refugee population because of unrest and violence in their homelands—Congolese fleeing their war-torn nation;Rohingya Burmese fleeing persecution from their government; Colombians fleeing guerilla groups; Iraqisfleeing war and an unstable security environment in their homeland; and now Syrians fleeing internal strife.The global community, including the United States, must continue to respond to their dire conditions.  
Another refugee crisis is emerging—Syrians fleeing turmoil and violence.The countries of Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey are to be commended for receiving these refugees.I urge the United States and the world community to assist them.We pray that the fighting in Syria ends.  
My brother bishops and I remain troubled by the plight of Iraqis who have fled their country because of religious persecution, and urge our government to assist the Iraqi government in protecting them and other Iraqis who live in fear of persecution.  
The Catholic Church in the United States does respond to the plight of the world’s refugees, in answer to the call of the Gospel to welcome the stranger.Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, assisted by diocesan Catholic Charities offices around the nation, resettles as many as 20,000 refugees a year in the United States.The Catholic Church in the United States, through these agencies, represents the largest private refugee resettlement organization in the world.Catholic Relief Services (CRS) provides support to refugee populations overseas.We help refugees of all religious traditions.  
I urge the U.S. government to continue to work with us to assist refugees.In the last two years, we have witnessed a decrease in the number of refugees being served by our U.S. refugee program.This is in part because of additional security processes, but also because of a lack of political will.As a result, Iraqis already accepted for the U.S. program—women and children particularly—and other at-risk populations remain in danger.  
. . .  
In the face of the refugee, we see the face of Christ.As we celebrate World Refugee Day, let us continue to welcome the refugee into our hearts and homes.
The rest of the statement is here.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Albany "astroturf": fake grass-roots lobbying

The New York World has a good article on the difference between grass-roots lobbying and "astroturf," i.e., fake grass-roots lobbying.

What does New York Alliance for Environmental Concerns advocate for? Whom does Citizens for Fire Safety Institute represent?

Both, it turns out, work on behalf of businesses that produce or use chemicals. Lobbying always has an element of spin, but some organizations make it easy to misunderstand whom they speak for or what they stand for.

As the current state legislative session winds down, the New York World used its Lobbies at the Top database as a starting point to identify organizations that lobbied state officials in the past two years and whose names appear to disguise their objectives.

U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas coined a word for the phenomenon: "astroturf." Facing a deluge of letters from the insurance industry, he is reported to have said: "A fellow from Texas can tell the difference between grass roots and Astroturf."

A trademark for artificial turf grass has since been reborn as a label for any faux-populist lobbying. Groups that present a sympathetic face, and speak to loftier principles than a company’s bottom line, tend to get better hearings in the press and among image-conscious politicians.

The rest of the article is here.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A conservative questions the anti-sharia movement

Matthew Schmitz, the deputy editor of First Things , writes in The National Review about “the growing anti-sharia movement in this country, which endangers our national security by alienating loyal Muslim citizens and assaults religious liberty by putting contracts with a religious motivation on an unequal footing with contracts that have no religious motivation.”
It is particularly disappointing to see Sam Brownback — a committed Catholic with deep ties to the evangelical-Protestant community and a strong record on religious-liberty matters — signing an anti-sharia bill. Addressing the 2006 Religious Liberty Dinner in Washington, D.C., Brownback said that people denied religious liberty “deserve our efforts” to vindicate their rights. He cited the Epistle to the Hebrews in calling on those who possess liberty to remember “those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Brownback’s point is as true today as ever: American Christians must stand for the religious liberty of Muslims if they are to argue persuasively for their own.
Perhaps the most acute irony of the anti-sharia movement is that it undermines our national security, in particular our ability to constructively engage peaceful Muslims and to take action against terrorists. In ways various and immeasurable, the anti-sharia movement’s implication that all Muslims are radicals amplifies resentments and fuels hate by encouraging Americans to view their neighbors with suspicion and distrust. Even worse, it threatens to turn our Muslim fellow citizens, and our Muslim allies abroad, against America.  
The anti-sharia movement also undermines national security in much more concrete ways. Tom Lynch recently linked to a post by one Gary DeMar contending that instruction in the Arabic language in a New York City public school was part of a program of deliberate Islamization. Now, the real reason the school selected Arabic was to help it gain certification from the prestigious International Baccalaureate (IB) program, but DeMar brushed this fact aside: “I suspect that the IB program is more about the Islamization of America than anything else.  
Teaching Arabic in our schools, of course, is precisely the kind of thing that will help Americans combat terrorism. The fact that the anti-sharia people so readily oppose it shows they are much more concerned about the specter of “creeping sharia” than about readying our nation to intelligently counter immediate and ongoing terrorist threats. They would rather win a chimerical battle in the culture war than support policies that could provide critical aid to Americans engaged abroad who stand in need of agents, officers, and interpreters with a firm grasp of Arabic.  
Unhinged rhetoric, if long enough tolerated, will eventually impose real costs. The National Conference of State Legislatures says anti-sharia measures already have been considered in 20 states, and Oklahoma, Arizona, Louisiana, and Tennessee have all enacted such measures. These bills put religious contracts on an unequal footing with secular ones without extending any new constitutional or legal protections to women in Muslim communities. Their conservative advocates embarrass the very name of “religious liberty” and endanger our national security.  
Anti-Muslim bigots and their public apologists must be vigorously opposed by Americans who recognize the value of a religious voice in the public square and the imperative that all Americans be treated equally under the law, whether they are religious or irreligious, Christian, Muslim, or Jew.
The rest of the column is here.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Bishops to prepare message on work and the economy

Catholic News Service reports that the U.S. bishops have approved a proposal to draft a statement on work and the economy "as a way to raise the profile of growing poverty and the struggles unemployed people are experiencing."
Titled "Catholic Reflections on Work, Poverty and a Broken Economy," the message would advance the bishops' priority of human life and dignity to demonstrate the new evangelization in action, explained Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

The bishops voted 171-26 during their spring meeting in Atlanta to move ahead with a draft of the document. It is expected to be ready in time for a final vote at the bishops' fall meeting in November.

The message would be a follow-up to a Sept. 15, 2011, letter by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, in which he urged bishops and priests across the country to preach about "the terrible toll the current economic turmoil is taking on families and communities."

That letter was sent at the urging of the bishops' Administrative Committee, which directs the work of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops between general assemblies. The committee "wanted something more than a public statement," the cardinal said in the letter.

The rest of the article is here.

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Friday, June 15, 2012

God and the economy

How your view of God shapes your view of the economy. Fascinating.

Paul Froese, a sociology professor at Baylor University and a research fellow at the Institute for Studies of Religion, writes:
In 2005, I, along with a team of researchers at Baylor, began surveying American religious beliefs, values and behaviors. Last fall, our third installment of the Baylor Religion Survey was released. Our combined research, which included polling from Gallup and dozens of detailed one-on-one interviews, suggests that value and economic concerns are becoming increasingly hard to disentangle. In fact, for many white evangelicals, religious and economic spheres are conceptualized as two sides of the same coin. They describe their worldview as one in which the spiritual and the material are mutually dependent and interactive. And the popularity of this worldview cuts across social class.
This compatibility of social and economic concerns has become apparent, of course, in the Tea Party movement. While Tea Partiers were initially cast as die-hard fiscal conservatives, the movement’s pious rhetoric—along with subsequent polling data—indicated that religious concerns were central to its popularity. Ultimately, the Tea Party movement revealed the extent to which religious and economic beliefs meld in the minds of many frustrated Americans.
To put this more concretely, approximately 31 percent of Americans, many of whom are white evangelical men, believe that God is steering the United States economy, thus fusing their religious and economic interests. These individuals believe in what I call an “Authoritative God.” An Authoritative God is thought to be actively engaged in daily activities and historical outcomes. For those with an Authoritative God, value concerns are synonymous with economic concerns because God has a guiding hand in both. Around two-thirds of believers in an Authoritative God conjoin their theology with free-market economics, creating a new religious-economic idealism. Nearly one-fifth of American voters hold this viewpoint, signaling that it can be a major political force.
Religious-economic idealism is the belief that the free-market works because God is guiding it. (Its adherents are, of course, not your typical laissez-faire, Ayn Rand devotees.) The popularity of this ideology explains two supposed paradoxes. First, it indicates why some religious working-class Americans have embraced the GOP. It is not that these individuals ignore their class interests, but rather that they believe issues of abortion and gay marriage are linked to whether God is willing to help solve both social ills and their economic woes.
Second, the fact that income does not predict whether an American believes in an Authoritative God indicates that this is not a class-based ideology. Instead, it is a cosmic worldview, which appeals across economic divides. Most clearly, it benefits the wealthy because conservative economic policies tend to favor them. But wealthy Americans with an Authoritative God can also have a religious-like devotion to their economic conservatism. In this way, their economic pragmatism transforms into a type of religious dogmatism. And dogmatism does not bend to changing circumstances and outcomes, so that we can expect believers in religious-economic idealism to cling to laissez-faire policies even when they appear not to work.
In sum, religious-economic idealism makes economic and cultural issues fully compatible, which may be a blessing and a curse for the Republican Party. It blesses the GOP with strong support from individuals who may be personally disadvantaged by their economic strategies, but also curses them with an unforgiving and inflexible constituency if political compromise becomes a necessity of governing. In a universe where God decrees no government intervention, any deviation or compromise from the free market is heresy.
What these findings do not explain is why someone who thinks God controls the American economy is necessarily a fiscal conservative. Couldn’t an Authoritative God want a socialist-style controlled economy under the tutelage of a pious chief economist? In Europe, I have found that belief in an Authoritative God is not at all associated with economic conservatism, and in Latvia and the Slovak Republic it even predicts a socialist ideology. Depending on where you are in the world, an Authoritative God is not always a capitalist.
You can read more here.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wrongful convictions

More than two years ago, David Kaczynski, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, wrote about what the state legislature could do to implement reforms that have been shown to reduce the frequency of wrongful convictions.

Now, he writes about the legislature’s failure to pass such reforms, which include "best practices for handling eyewitness identifications, better oversight and accountability for the state’s forensic labs, and mandatory videotaping of in custody interrogations of criminal suspects."

Mr. Kaczynski focuses on the case of Jeffrey Deskovic, who was convicted of murder and rape despite DNA evidence that clearly exonerated him.

My friend Jeff Deskovic can – and has – testified to the miscarriages of justice that can occur as a result of coerced false confessions. He should know. At the age of 16, he confessed to the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl after 7 ½ hours in a small room with aggressive police interrogators who simply wore him down with a combination of threats and false promises.

Prior to trial, the FBI crime lab reported that Jeff’s DNA did not match the sample taken from the victim. But police and prosecutors didn’t want to admit that they had the wrong man. A trial jury subsequently convicted Jeff on the premise that no one would confess to a horrible crime if they were innocent.

It took 16 years in maximum security prisons labeled as a sex offender before Jeff was finally vindicated and released after a brand new DA used her discretion to run the DNA sample taken from the rape kit through the state’s DNA database.

Talk about the human costs of a wrongful conviction! We all sympathize with Jeff. But we seldom consider the consequences of allowing the actual perpetrator to go free. In Jeff’s case, the real murderer raped and killed another young woman 3 ½ years after Jeff was sent to prison.

Addressing wrongful convictions in a serious way should be a no-brainer – not a controversial or a partisan issue. I suspect the reason we haven’t is because state prosecutors would prefer to police themselves – and prosecutors have plenty of political clout.

You can read more here.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Chamber CEO supports minimum wage hike

Margot Dorfman, CEO of the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce, argues in today’s Times Union that raising the minimum wage is good for both workers and business.
The number one problem for our member businesses is that the recovery is slow because sales are still weak. Too many of their customers have been out of work or are working for lower pay or are fearful about their economic future, and as a result have cut back on their spending. Raising the minimum wage puts dollars in the pockets of the workers who are by necessity most likely to spend them immediately in the local economy.

Minimum wage workers are not taking fancy trips overseas or making investments on Wall Street. They are spending their paychecks at the grocery store, the pharmacy, the auto-repair shop and other local businesses.
Too many people forget that workers are also consumers. Consumer spending drives 70 percent of our economy, and we must repower wage-backed consumer spending if we are going to repower our economy, create jobs and reverse the decline in our middle class.
Ms. Dorfman also makes another interesting point regarding small businesses and large chain stores:
Many of my members were once employees themselves. They know that the typical low-wage worker is an adult woman. Think of your waitress at Applebee's or the cashier who rings you up at Walmart or the health aide who helps your mother or grandfather.

Our members know that New York's minimum wage of $7.25 an hour — just $15,080 for full-time, year-round work — is too low. They know that keeping the minimum wage low, keeps women and families down.

And, contrary to the long disproved claims of minimum wage opponents, the most rigorous studies of the impact of actual minimum wage increases show they do not cause job loss. In our experience, workers who are paid poverty wages work overwhelmingly for the big chains, not for Main Street businesses.

In fact, the big chains count on responsible employers and taxpayers to subsidize them by providing food stamps and public health assistance to their workers who can't make ends meet on poverty wages.

The reality is that my members and other Main Street businesses have a lot in common with low-wage workers: both are being squeezed by the national chains. Raising the minimum wage to a more realistic amount helps level the playing field for businesses like my members that believe in treating their workers fairly and investing in the communities they are rooted in. It's past time for New York to join the 18 states that have raised their minimum wages above $7.25. Increasing the minimum wage will help small businesses like my members by putting more money in the pockets of New Yorkers, which will boost spending in the local economy. It will help level the playing field. And it will bring fairer pay to New York's working men and women.
The entire column is here.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

An interfaith prayer service to raise the minimum wage

Please join us on Wednesday, June 13, for an interfaith prayer service to raise the minimum wage.

The Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State and its many allies have collected 500 faith leader and clergy signatures demanding a raise in the minimum wage this year. They will hold a prayerful service on the Million Dollar Staircase in the state Capitol and deliver the letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo's office. The group will gather at Westminster Presbyterian Church (85 Chestnut Street in Albany) at 11:15 a.m. for an 11:30 a.m. procession to the Capitol.

The prayer service will begin at noon on the Million Dollar Staircase. (From the State Street entrance, make a left. From the Washington Avenue entrance, make a right.)

The New York State Bishops’ Statement on the Minimum Wage is here.

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Saturday, June 02, 2012

A Note on business leads to this Reflection

Last year, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace created quite a stir when it issued a Note on the global financial system. Now the president of the same Council, Cardinal Peter Turkson, has released a new – and very different – Reflection about the nature and ends of business. [You may recall that Cardinal Turkson was in Albany last month.]

From the Executive Summary:

When businesses and market economies function properly and focus on serving the common good, they
contribute greatly to the material and even the spiritual well-being of society. Recent experience, however,
has also demonstrated the harm caused by the failings of businesses and markets. The transformative
developments of our era—globalisation, communications technologies, and financialisation — produce
problems alongside their benefits: inequality, economic dislocation, information overload, financial
instability and many other pressures leading away from serving the common good. Business leaders who
are guided by ethical social principles, lived through virtues and illuminated for Christians by the Gospel,
can, nonetheless, succeed and contribute to the common good.

Obstacles to serving the common good come in many forms —lack of rule of law, corruption, tendencies
towards greed, poor stewardship of resources—but the most significant for a business leader on a
personal level is leading a "divided" life. This split between faith and daily business practice can lead
to imbalances and misplaced devotion to worldly success. The alternative path of faith-based "servant
leadership" provides business leaders with a larger perspective and helps to balance the demands of the
business world with those of ethical social principles, illumined for Christians by the Gospel. This is
explored through three stages:
seeing, judging, and acting, even though it is clear that these three aspects
are deeply interconnected.

To read the entire document, go here.

To read what others are saying, go here, here and here.

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