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March 1, 2015

Islamic State Actions Reinforce Urgency of Dialogue, Religious Leaders Say

By Carol Zimmermann, Catholic News Service

Amid frequent reports of brutal killings and attacks by Islamic State militants, the director of an Islamic group in the United States strongly believes that people of faith must "collectively denounce" these actions of "stark evil" and "cruel barbarism."

"We have to be clear in our writings, web sites, lectures and speeches" that this group is a "misrepresentation of our faith and of all faiths," said Sayyid Syeed, national director of the Islamic Society of North America's Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances, based in Washington.

These Eight Charts Show Why Racial Equality Is a Myth in America

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ cover story at The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations,” — and the subject of this week’s Moyers & Companyinterview — shows how dramatically the legacy of slavery and centuries of legalized and institutionalized racism have held back our country’s African-American population. In 2014, there still very much exists what in 1967 Martin Luther King described as “two Americas,” one “overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity,” the other tainted by “a daily ugliness … that constantly transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair.”

Last summer, America celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and this week marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs. But in 2014, just as in the mid-1960s, which one of Dr. King’s two Americas you live in likely depends on the color of your skin.

Power Shut Off to Palestinian Cities

Electric power was shut off to Nablus and Jenin for 45 minutes on Monday and 30 minutes Wednesday by the Israel Electric Company (IEC) due to unpaid bills totaling $492 million. IEC supplies most of the electricity to the West Bank through the Palestinian Authority (PA) and a Palestinian electricity firm, who are responsible for the debt. IEC said it will continue to cut power for short periods daily until the debt is paid.

Israel has withheld the monthly tax revenue of $130 million from the PA for two months due to the PA decision to join the International Criminal Court (ICC). Israeli’s National Security Advisor Yossi Cohen, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Yoav Mordechai all warned against cutting off power to West Bank cities, citing potential dangerous consequences. 

EDITORIAL: Despite Criticism Obama Is Right Not To Say ‘Islamic Terrorists’

By Michael Arceneaux

Even by their standards, The New York Post was tacky for Friday’s cover, which features a blindfolded President Obama saying, “Islamic terror? I just don’t see it.” To his credit, Obama is correct in his assertion that we shouldn’t refer to terrorist organizations like ISIS as “Islamic” given that doing so legitimizes the notion that the West is at war with Islam itself.

Former President George W. Bush virtually felt the same way. Yet, Obama’s thoughtful, nuanced take on the complicated issue of religious zealots bastardizing dogma to excuse terrorism resulted in conservatives responding in usual fashion: with hyperbole, cluelessness, and xenophobia.

CHN Fact of the Week: Half Of New Jobs Pay Less Than a Living Wage

By Lecia Imbery

A few weeks ago, our Fact of the Week highlighted the historically low percentage of jobless workers who are receiving unemployment insurance benefits. We noted that unemployment and underemployment remain high, despite the growth in the number of jobs in recent years. But there’s another part of this story – the types of jobs our nation is creating, and the ability of those jobs to lift people out of poverty and create shared prosperity.

According to a recent report, Low Wage Nation, nearly two out of five existing jobs pay less than $15 an hour, and nearly half of job openings pay less than $15 an hour. The Alliance for a Just Society, the authors of the report, used a conservative $15 an hour wage to represent a living wage, defined by them as the salary “a full-time worker needs to earn to make basic ends meet, with a little left over to plan for emergencies and get ahead.” However, they note that in many states and cities, $15 isn’t enough to make ends meet, even for a single person without child care costs.

EDITORIAL: Even Better Than a Tax Cut

By Lawrence Mishel

With the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign underway and millions of Americans still hurting financially, both parties are looking for ways to address wage stagnation. That’s the good news. The bad news is that both parties are offering tax cuts as a solution. What has hurt workers’ paychecks is not what the government takes out, but what their employers no longer put in — a dynamic that tax cuts cannot eliminate.

Wage stagnation is a decades-long phenomenon. Between 1979 and 2014, while the gross domestic product grew 150 percent and productivity grew 75 percent, the inflation-adjusted hourly wage of the median worker rose just 5.6 percent — less than 0.2 percent a year. And since 2002, the bottom 80 percent of wage earners, including both male and female college graduates, have actually seen their wages stagnate or fall.

EDITORIAL: Helen Ladd: A-F Letter Grades for Schools Hide What We Must Do to Support School Children

By Jan Resseger

Helen Ladd, professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University and her husband, Edward Fiske, a former education editor of the NY Times, recently published an analysis of the meaning of North Carolina’s new A-F rating system for public schools. They write: “Whatever their limitations… the letter grades sent a clear message about what North Carolina needs to do to improve outcomes for kids. In a nutshell, we need to figure out how to break the link between poverty and achievement in our schools… The most striking pattern that emerged from the letter grades from the NC Department of Public Instruction was the near-perfect correlation between letter grades and economic disadvantage. The News & Observer reported that 80 percent of schools where at least four-fifths of children qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch received a D or F grade, whereas 90 percent of schools with fewer than one in five students on the subsidized lunch program received As or Bs.”

CANADA: Premiers Respond to Letter from Citizens for Public Justice

By Kathryn Teeluck

Late last year, the federal government passed Bill C-43 allowing provinces and territories to restrict access to social assistance. It is now up to each province and territory to decide whether an individual must reside there for a certain period of time before they can access social assistance, and they may do so without losing federal funding for it.

As it became clear that the bill was not likely to be defeated, Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) reached out to the premiers of each province and territory to inquire whether or not they intend to use the provisions that would allow them to restrict access to social assistance. In a letter dated November 24th, CPJ asked each premier to publicly state if they did not intend to do so as a demonstration to the federal government that this was not an initiative they desired.

House Sub-Committee Holds Puerto Rico Bankruptcy Hearing

A US House of Representatives Judiciary sub-committee is discussing legislation to give Puerto Rico's public utilities access to US bankruptcy protection. The Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law is meeting to debate HR 870, a bill introduced by Puerto Rico's Representative in Congress. Puerto Rico has more than $70 billion in public debt, about $20,000 per resident. The island's government attempted to restructure its public utility company's debts but was stopped by a court ruling. As a territory, Puerto Rico cannot access International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans and isn't eligible for the bankruptcy laws that govern US cities and states.

Palestinian Economy Deteriorating

Due to withheld tax revenue, the PA paid government workers 60 percent of their wages by borrowing from banks the past two months. Banks are unable to continue to loan the PA money according to senior Palestinian officials and if another solution is not found PA employees will not receive March wages.

US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concern that if the PA were to “decide to disband as a result of their economic predicament ... then we would be faced by yet another crisis." IDF and the Shin Bet are preparing for a possible escalation in violence in the West Bank due to the deteriorating economic situation. An Israeli official has said “there is pressure on the PA” but there is “time” and the PA is not on verge of collapse.

Chaco Region of Bolivia and Argentina

By Chris Herlinger, CWS

The first thing you have to know about the Chaco region of Bolivia and Argentina? History matters. In this, the largest dry forest in the world (and, after the Amazon, the second largest forest reserve in South America), indigenous groups have lost their land, were marginalized, and have struggled with the exigencies of neglect, poverty, poor health care and spotty education.

The good news is that CWS, a partner of Week of Compassion, is working with human rights groups, church-supported partners and indigenous organizations in making a difference in the lives of people in the Chaco.

Church World Service Statement Against Collins Bill

Dear Members of the United States Senate:

As a humanitarian agency that brings together 37 member communions, Church World Service seeks to fulfill the call to love our neighbor and welcome the stranger by protecting refugees internationally and advocating for just immigration policies here in the United States. This is why we write to you today, urging you to oppose the Immigration Rule of Law Act (S.534) introduced by Senator Collins (R-ME).

CANADA: I Am A Witness

In 2007, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations filed a human rights complaint against the Government of Canada. They alleged that Canada’s failure to provide equitable and culturally based child welfare services to First Nations children on-reserve is discrimination on the basis of race and ethnic origin. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal is expected to rule on the First Nations child welfarve case in 2015.

In October 2014, KAIROS hosted a Solidarity Evening for the Caring Society on the eve of final arguments before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Leaders and representatives from all of KAIROS’ member churches attended this event, which included presentations from filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin, representatives from the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and the Assembly of First Nations, the Caring Society’s Executive Director, Cindy Blackstock, and the Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Justice Murray Sinclair, among others.

February 22, 2015

NCC Condemns ISIS executions of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya

The National Council of Churches received with great distress the news of the execution of 21 Coptic Christians by ISIS in Libya. We deplore all forms of extremist violence carried out in the name of religion, and are outraged by yet another demonstration of perverse violence perpetrated by ISIS militants in this brutal act against innocent victims.

The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the National Council of Churches’ 37 member communions and therefore this act of evil strikes close to home. When first reports emerged on Sunday, February 15, Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, NCC Associate General Secretary, contacted Bishop Serapion of the Diocese of Los Angeles of the Coptic Orthodox Church and a member of the NCC executive committee to express his sadness and to learn more of the unfolding situation. Based on information received from the church's headquarters in Egypt with which he remains in close contact, Bishop Serapion confirmed the tragedy had, in fact, occurred.

Immigration Programs Temporarily On Hold

On February 16, 2015, a federal judge in Texas issued a preliminary injunction temporarily blocking U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) from starting the two new immigration programs that President Obama announced in November:

1) Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and,

2) the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Expanded DACA).

The Department of Justice has promised to appeal the decision, but in the meantime, these two new programs are on hold. USCIS is not accepting applications for either of these programs at this time. This court order does not affect the existing DACA program that began in 2012. Youth and young adults can still apply for DACA for the first time or renew their DACA.

EDITORIAL: State Tax Cuts Inevitably Threaten Education

By Jan Resseger

It is budget season across the states, and in many places governors are proposing tax cuts for—so they say— two purposes: growing their state economies and bringing relief to the middle class. But the problem is that the arithmetic has to add up. And experts warn that neither theory justifies tax cuts—particularly when the tax cuts include people in the top brackets.

Josh Bivens at the Economic Policy Institute refutes the myth that tax cuts grow the economy: “The coming year is likely to see repeated calls… for ‘tax reform’ that leads to lower top tax rates, for both individuals and corporations. The claim made on behalf of these policy proposals is that lower top tax rates will lead to accelerated economic growth. One key problem with such claims is that over the past generation a huge and growing wedge has appeared between economy-wide growth rates and the growth rates of the living standards of low-and middle-income households. This wedge means that even successful efforts to boost economy-wide growth rates do disappointingly little to boost incomes for the vast majority of Americans. And an even bigger problem with such claims is that lower top tax rates just are not associated with more rapid economic growth.”

Social Security Debate Reignites

By Rebecca Shabad 

Social Security is surging to the forefront of the political debate ahead of the race for the White House in 2016.

The entitlement program has been thrust into the spotlight by a fight over the Social Security disability fund, which is expected to run dry by the end of next year.

The looming shortfall is stirring a burst of activism on the left, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a likely 2016 candidate, and liberal hero Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) warning of an assault on the program from Republicans in Congress.

Unlikely Cause Unites the Left and the Right: Justice Reform

By Carl Hulse

Usually bitter adversaries, Koch Industries and the Center for American Progress have found at least one thing they can agree on: The nation’s criminal justice system is broken.

Koch Industries, the conglomerate owned by the conservative Koch brothers, and the center, a Washington-based liberal issues group, are coming together to back a new organization called the Coalition for Public Safety. The coalition plans a multimillion-dollar campaign on behalf of emerging proposals to reduce prison populations, overhaul sentencing, reduce recidivism and take on similar initiatives. Other groups from both the left and right — the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Tax Reform, the Tea Party-oriented FreedomWorks — are also part of the coalition, reflecting its unusually bipartisan approach.

Canada: Less Talk and More Action To Battle Poverty

By Janelle Vandergrift

Today is the World Day of Social Justice. Who among us would disagree with such a concept?

The term social justice has become commonplace and tends to go down pretty easy. But what if it goes down a bit too easily? Do we just hear the word, make a mental check mark, and move on? Are we more concerned with saying the right things than actually changing our actions?

Pope Francis: A Christian Who Does Not Protect Creation ‘Does Not Care About The Work of God’

By David Gibson

If you are a Christian, protecting the environment is part of your identity, not an ideological option, Pope Francis said Monday (Feb. 9).

“When we hear that people have meetings about how to preserve creation, we can say: ‘No, they are the greens!’” Francis said in his homily at morning Mass, using a common name for environmental activists.

“No, they are not the greens! This is the Christian!” he said.