Peace & Justice

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

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Support SNAP Funding

Catholic Charities USA has sent out the following Action Alert:
Tell Congress to Support SNAP Funding, Protect the Poor and Hungry in Budget Discussions 
Members of Congress seeking to reauthorize the farm bill are seeking a middle ground the competing versions of legislation. But cuts to a vital anti-hunger program could leave millions of Americans at risk of losing access to healthy and affordable food.  
Both the House and Senate bills include reductions to SNAP, and both would have an impact on those receiving aid from this crucial program. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Senate's version of the bill would cause an estimated 500,000 households see their benefits cut by an average $90 per month. It also found that the House bill would cause nearly 3 million households to lose eligibility for SNAP, and another 850,000 households see their benefits fall significantly.  
While the Senate continues to underscore cuts will be a reality, Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) and its network of member agencies urge Members of Congress that when considering cuts that benefits to vulnerable people be spared. CCUSA believes that savings can be realized without cutting life sustaining benefits to people who will be most affected.
Throughout our nation’s history, policymakers have always come together to fund this critical program and support the individuals and families that rely on SNAP to put food on their tables. We encourage you to tell Congress to preserve SNAP funding for those in need!
You can take action here. Scroll down about half way to find the form for contacting your Congressional representatives.

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Monday, October 28, 2013


Friends of the Albany Public Library will mark the 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht with a talk by Rabbi Scott Shpeen of Congregation Beth Emeth at 12:15 p.m., Monday, November 4, at 161 Washington Avenue.

Kristallnacht, night of the broken glass, was named after the shards of glass from the smashed windows of Jewish businesses, synagogues, and buildings in Germany and Austria on November 9 and 10, 1938. The pogrom was carried out by paramilitary Nazi storm troopers and non-Jewish civilians while German authorities stood by without intervening.

At least 90 Jews were killed, and 30,000 were incarcerated in concentration camps. More than 1,000 synagogues were burned and 7,000 Jewish businesses were destroyed.

The title of Rabbi Shpeen’s talk is "The 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht: When the Holocaust Began."

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Bishops address casino gambling vote

The Catholic Bishops of New York State have issued a statement about the upcoming vote on casino gambling. Speaking as "pastors and citizens," they note that a study commissioned by the Connecticut Division of Special Revenue on the economic and social impact of Indian casinos in the state, found:
that while the casinos did boost employment and revenues, they also resulted in serious numerous negative consequences in the areas near the casinos and for individuals. These included a 400 percent increase in embezzlement arrests, a doubling of DWI arrests, and an increase in substandard and illegal housing for undocumented workers. Of the problem gamblers studied in the report, 62 percent gambled until their last dollar was gone. Personal bankruptcies in areas where the state’s two Indian casinos are located were more than 10 percent higher than the national norm in seven of the 10 years after the casinos were built. We must ask, will the presence of casinos forever change the character of areas like Saratoga Springs, the Catskill Mountains and the Southern Tier?

The entire statement is here.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Executive compensation

The Philadelphia Inquirer recently editorialized about the growing gap between business executives and their employees, and a proposed rule from the Securities and Exchange Commission that would require publicly traded companies to compare chief executive compensation with median employee pay. Among the interesting facts:
The gap between rank-and-file and executive compensation has widened steadily for decades. In 1965, executives were paid an average of 20 times workers' salaries. Today, according to the Economic Policy Institute, they make more than 277 times their employees' pay.  
Although the average pay of the nation's top 200 executives is $15 million, according to an analysis by the firm Equilar, they have not performed at a very high level for many firms. Between 1993 and 2012, more than a third of the companies run by the 25 highest-paid executives fired them for poor performance, had to be bailed out by taxpayers, or were charged with fraud, according to the Institute for Policy Studies' report "Executive Excess 2013: Bailed Out, Booted, and Busted. The study concluded that lavish compensation "encourages high-risk behavior and lawbreaking at the expense of taxpayers and investors."
You can read more here.

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Wednesday, October 09, 2013

How the rich are different

"The very rich are different from you and me," said F. Scott Fitzgerald. How different?

Writing in the Opinionator blog of The New York Times, psychologist Daniel Goleman writes that they just care less.
A growing body of recent research shows that people with the most social power pay scant attention to those with little such power. This tuning out has been observed, for instance, with strangers in a mere five-minute get-acquainted session, where the more powerful person shows fewer signals of paying attention, like nodding or laughing. Higher-status people are also more likely to express disregard, through facial expressions, and are more likely to take over the conversation and interrupt or look past the other speaker. 
Bringing the micropolitics of interpersonal attention to the understanding of social power, researchers are suggesting, has implications for public policy. 
Of course, in any society, social power is relative; any of us may be higher or lower in a given interaction, and the research shows the effect still prevails. Though the more powerful pay less attention to us than we do to them, in other situations we are relatively higher on the totem pole of status — and we, too, tend to pay less attention to those a rung or two down. 
A prerequisite to empathy is simply paying attention to the person in pain. In 2008, social psychologists from the University of Amsterdam and the University of California, Berkeley, studied pairs of strangers telling one another about difficulties they had been through, like a divorce or death of a loved one. The researchers found that the differential expressed itself in the playing down of suffering. The more powerful were less compassionate toward the hardships described by the less powerful.
. . .
This has profound implications for societal behavior and government policy. Tuning in to the needs and feelings of another person is a prerequisite to empathy, which in turn can lead to understanding, concern and, if the circumstances are right, compassionate action. 
In politics, readily dismissing inconvenient people can easily extend to dismissing inconvenient truths about them. The insistence by some House Republicans in Congress on cutting financing for food stamps and impeding the implementation of Obamacare, which would allow patients, including those with pre-existing health conditions, to obtain and pay for insurance coverage, may stem in part from the empathy gap. As political scientists have noted, redistricting and gerrymandering have led to the creation of more and more safe districts, in which elected officials don’t even have to encounter many voters from the rival party, much less empathize with them. 
.Social distance makes it all the easier to focus on small differences between groups and to put a negative spin on the ways of others and a positive spin on our own. 
The rest of the blog is here.

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Friday, October 04, 2013

What this chaos is NOT about

Over at The Christian Century magazine, associate editor Steve Thorngate has taken the time to explain what the current government chaos is NOT about, ruling out runaway government spending, runaway budget deficits, strident partisanship, hitting the debt ceiling or stopping Obamacare.

You can read the entire article here.

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Thursday, October 03, 2013

The Affordable Care Act

Over at the blog for U.S. Catholic magazine, Scott Alessi has an aptly titled post: As Affordable Care Act rollout continues, we need less rhetoric, more clarity. In additions to providing links for more information, he writes:
Before praising or condemning the ACA based on rhetoric, every American should take the time to try to understand exactly how it will work and what the potential outcomes of the law's implementation will be. While there are certainly still flaws in the law or issues to be worked out, all this arguing about the Affordable Care Act has done nothing to help people actually understand how it works, or how it can benefit them.
The entire post is here.

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Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Bishops urge Congress to fulfill role

The bishops who chair three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have sent letters to the House and Senate, urging them to meet the challenges facing the United States at home and abroad.
"In 2011, we welcomed bipartisan action which averted a federal government shutdown and the hardship that would have come with failure to reach agreement," the bishops wrote. "The Catholic bishops of the United States stand ready to work with leaders of both parties for a budget that reduces future unsustainable deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people, advances the common good, and promotes human life and dignity."

. . .

The bishops noted that the Catechism of the Catholic Church says it is the proper role of government to "make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life," including food, clothing, heath care, education and culture.

"In our country today, millions of Americans struggle to meet these basic needs, through no fault of their own, as a result of an economy that continues to fail to create sufficient economic opportunities," the bishops wrote. "Last year, the poverty rate remained at a 20-year high, over 1 in 5 children lived in poverty, and 49 million Americans were food-insecure at some point." They added that 23 million Americans remain unemployed or underemployed.

The bishops also noted the challenges awaiting Congress on the international stage.

"Throughout the world, millions rely on the United States for lifesaving food, medicine, and support," they wrote. "In Syria, violence seriously threatens the lives of two million refugees and four million internally displaced persons, half of them children."
The rest of the letter is here.

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