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January 31, 2016

2016 Remind & Renew featured Barber, Watkins

By Phillips Theological Seminary staff

The church and people of faith have a great responsibility for engaging the conversation about race in the United States, according to speakers at the 2016 Remind & Renew conference. (Audio available for all speakers on the webpage.)

“What would happen if we all got together?” asked the Rev. Dr. William Barber, II. “What if we put away this puny language about ‘left versus right’ and started talking about what’s just?”

Point-by-point, Barber connected decades-long policies of federal, state and local governments that cut funding for public services, including education and health care, to deep seated efforts to maintain control by a white majority. He said when justice-seeking people come together, change will happen.

“The Christian Church is primed to be that voice because we believe that everybody is invited to the table,” Barber said.

“The same people fighting Medicaid expansion and the same people fighting health care for women and the same people fighting the LGBT community and the same people fighting labor rights and the same people fighting public education, the same people fighting voter participation, are the same people. They’re like the Sadducees and Pharisees,” said Barber, pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina and founder of the Moral Monday movement and NAACP North Carolina president.

CANADA: Faithful Action After COP21 in Paris

In December 2015, world leaders negotiated the text of “The Paris Agreement.” This historic document outlines expectations for national action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support adaptation to the impacts of climate change.

The Paris Agreement signals an important opportunity for faith communities around the world to engage in creation care through action and advocacy. To help facilitate this in Canada, CPJ is coordinating a national petition from faith communities urging the federal government to act on its commitment to leadership and strong climate policy.

Important First Steps to End Solitary Confinement for Youth in Federal Prisons

By Marcy Mistrett, CEO, Campaign for Youth Justice

In a historic moment Monday, President Obama used his executive authority to end the use of solitary confinement for youth in the federal prison system.

This action is incredibly important to the numerous youth who are prosecuted and sentenced as adults in the federal bureau of prisons each year. Youth housed in adult facilities are often subject to solitary confinement as a perverse means of “protecting” them from the adult population; making the abuse even more egregious for this population. Citing a Department of Justice review of the overuse and abuse of solitary confinement by the federal bureau of prisons, Mr. Obama called upon our “common humanity” to end this torturous practice.

The 53 recommendations drawn by the Department of Justice will apply to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the US Marshalls Service, but also sends a strong message to states to create a less harmful environment for those in its care. The recommendations state that youth under age 18 “shall not be placed in restrictive housing”. They further state that in “very rare” circumstances when there is serious and immediate risk of injury to another person, a youth may be removed and placed in restrictive housing as a “cool down” period—but only in consultation with a mental health professional. While the recommendations stop short of articulating a specific maximum length of time allowed in those “very rare circumstances”, the recommendations clearly state that youth under 18 don’t belong in isolation, period.

United Nations Chief Takes Aim At Israel Over New Settlements

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday criticized Israel's new plans for Jewish settlements in the West Bank and spoke of growing Palestinian frustration after 50 years of Israeli military rule. 

"Progress towards peace requires a freeze of Israel's settlement enterprise," Ban told a Security Council debate on the Middle East. 

The UN chief spoke after Israel approved plans to build 153 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank, which the Peace Now group said was the first construction project approved in the last 18 months. 

Last week, Israel declared 370 acres in the West Bank, south of Jericho, as state land. 

Condemning Palestinian stabbings, vehicle attacks and shootings against Israelis, Ban also stressed that occupation often breeds hate and extremism.

For the full article on NDTV, click here.

January 30, 2016

Puerto Rico‎ Proposes Debt Plan

Puerto Rico's Government Development Bank is meeting with investors in New York to share new details around a bond exchange first proposed by the indebted island last year. The proposal is not being made public but sources say it will include a "superbond" that investors could purchase in exchange for existing debt. The plan takes into account that the US Territory's budget gap is $2 billion larger than expected. Puerto Rico owes $72 billion in total debt.

"Without bankruptcy protection, the only relief available to Puerto Rico now is through direct negotiations," stated Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of the religious development group Jubilee USA. "The debt needs to be sustainable and we can't support any solutions at the expense of pensions or social services."

The superbond proposal would allow investors to voluntarily exchange existing debt for one of two new types of securities. One type would eventually have a 5% interest rate after a 2-year moratorium on interest payments while the other would be pegged to Puerto Rico's economic health and would not pay out at all until 2026. The deal would not impact some of Puerto Rico's debt, including debt from the island's public utility which is involved in its own debt negotiations.

Urgent Letter in Support of Colombia Peace Before Santos Visit

After more than 50 years of war, Colombia can finally see peace on the horizon. But, peace isn’t guaranteed with the signing of a peace agreement; true peace with truth, justice, and reparations will take years of work. Following 15 years of military-focused assistance through Plan Colombia, it’s time to ensure that the U.S. government will support peace and that the human rights violations seen during the conflict won’t continue as the potential peace accords are implemented.

Next week, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will arrive in Washington DC for a White House visit with President Barack Obama.

Representative James McGovern (D-MA) is circulating a letter to President Barack Obama ahead of Colombian President Santos’ visit next week. The letter encourages U.S. support for the peace process and the implementation of peace should an agreement be signed. It also urges President Obama to continue to raise with President Santos concerns about the protection of human rights defenders, labor activists, community leaders, journalists, and Afro-Colombian and indigenous leaders against whom attacks and murders have increased. In addition, the letter encourages President Obama to support the Colombian justice system in the investigation of crimes, including extrajudicial killings by the military.

Pipeline Projects to Face New Environmental Regulations

By John Paul Tasker, CBC News

Pipeline projects will face a new environmental assessment process, a move the federal government says will restore the confidence of Canadians in the regulatory regime for major energy projects.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced Wednesday that the government is launching an interim review process that will impose more steps on projects such as Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain and TransCanada's Energy East pipelines before they can be built.

"We believe it is important and, in fact, essential to rebuild Canadians' trust in our environmental assessment processes," McKenna told a news conference Wednesday.

"We need to take into account the views and concerns of Canadians, respect the rights and interests of indigenous peoples and support our natural resources sector."

For the full article on CBC, click here.

EDITORIAL: Race Is In the Air We Breathe and the Water We Drink

By Jim Wallis

How would you feel if you realized your children’s water was being poisoned, and your government didn’t seem to care? That’s the story of the parents of 8,000 mostly poor and black children in Flint, Mich., (which means most all of the children in urban Flint) that has finally hit our media front pages. The evening news I am watching as I write warns the parents of Flint not to bathe their young children in city water.

But the fact that most Americans realize this would never happen in affluent white Michigan suburbs (or any other white affluent communities in our country), still doesn’t penetrate our very souls. This fundamental contrast between black and white experiences in Michigan, just north of my home town of Detroit, points to the structural racism that is still the primary moral contradiction of American life. The news about Flint is just the most recent consequence of America’s Original Sin, the title of the new book we have just launched.

RIM UPCOMING EVENT: Refugee Webinar

From our Refugee and Immigration Ministries:
1) As you may have heard, CENTRAL AMERICAN MOTHERS AND CHILDREN HAVE BEEN THE TARGET OF ICE RAIDS for the past month. See here a letter signed recently by Dr. Watkins and other national faith leaders and organizations, reminding the administration of the violence from which the children had fled in their homelands of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador--and urging that the raids and the family separation they cause be halted.

2) CONSIDER JOINING WITH THOUSANDS of faith, immigrant, and human rights advocates across the country in signing a similar letter, requesting a halt to the raids. This letter, together with the faith letter above, will be presented to the White House this coming Tuesday, February 2nd. Please sign on HERE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, so that your name might be among all delivered to the President next week!

January 16, 2016

17 Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes You Never Hear

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”—Martin Luther King Jr., “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” (1967), on Militarism and The Vietnam War

For the rest of the quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr., compiled by Heben Nigatu, click here.

MLK Day Events for Worker Justice


Across the country, events are being held to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. A Just Harvest is holding a 3rd Annual MLK Celebration in Chicago, IL on Sunday, January 17th, featuring special guests IL State Senator Heather Steans, City of Chicago Treasurer Kurt Summers, State’s Attorney Candidate Kim Foxx, and State’s Attorney Candidate Donna More. To find out more about the event, click here. In honor of MLK, Jr. Day, the Tompkins County Workers’ Center of Tompkins County, NY, is planning an action to highlight the new fast food minimum wage law and to continue the groundswell toward a Living Wage for everyone on Monday, January 18th. For more information on the event, click here.

Here’s What President Obama Said in His Final State of the Union

You can read the full text of President Obama's speech on WhiteHouse.gov, Medium, and Facebook. For more, check out past annotated State of the Union addresses.

Watch the final State of the Union address here.

On Sentencing Reform, Bipartisanship Isn't Dead

By Lecia Imbery

Within the first minute and a half of his final State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama called out the need for criminal justice reform. And with good reason. Nearly 1 in 100 American adults is incarcerated. America’s prison population has increased by 500 percent over the past thirty years, to the point where the U.S. now incarcerates more people and a higher percentage of its population than any other country in the world. In fact, the U.S. incarceration rate is more than six times the average across developed nations. Communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately hurt: black men are six times more likely and Latino men two-and-a-half times more likely to be incarcerated than white men, and over the last several years, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has reported that about of mandatory minimums are imposed on African American and Latino individuals.

The good news is there’s a criminal justice reform bill in Congress that would make several much-needed changes. And, it has bipartisan support in the Senate – a real rarity these days. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 2123) passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in October with a vote of 15-5. But it can’t become law if it doesn’t come up for a vote in the full Senate. More good news: you can act today to help get move this bill closer to becoming law.

Local Deportation Underscores Wider Immigration Debate

by Maria Sacchetti

Isidro Macario arrived at Logan International Airport before dawn Tuesday with a plane ticket to Guatemala and hopes for one last chance.

Bundled in a parka, the 48-year-old landscaper stepped into the glaring lights of the Delta terminal. His wife carried his Bible. Four of his sons stood somberly off to the side. Three are American citizens and Macario himself had lived in the United States for a quarter-century.

Macario carried records he hoped would spare him from deportation. Immigration officials had ordered him to leave because of a 1995 misdemeanor drunken driving conviction —part of efforts by the Obama administration to deport immigrants who have violated immigration laws.

“They’re separating me from my family, from my children,” he said in Spanish as he waited for an official to escort him to the plane. “What am I going to do?”

Click here for the full article from The Boston Globe.

Senate Voting on Bill to Stop Syrian & Iraqi Resettlement

Disciples, Please Join with the Refugee Council, USA, & Our Faith Partners to Protect Refugees & the US Refugee Program NOW!

The U.S. Senate plans to vote Wednesday, January 20th on H.R. 4038, "The American Security against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act," which would grind to a halt the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

This bill was passed by the House of Representatives in November, so it is critical that it not pass the Senate. Such proposals and the anti-refugee sentiment that has accompanied them are morally against who we are as a nation. It is critical that Senators hear from their constituents NOW.

Call your Senators TODAY & EVERY DAY leading up to the vote: Urge them to vote NO to H.R. 4038 and any legislation that would stop, pause or defund the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. 1-866-940-2439

Israel Faces New Brand of Terrorism, This Time From Young Settlers

By Isabel Kershner

To hear his father tell it, Mordechai Meyer, 18, a high school dropout, has spent the past few years camping out with his teenage friends in the rolling hills around Jewish outposts like this one in the northern West Bank. They want “to live simply, to build their own things and to commune with God,” said the father, Gedalia Meyer.

But Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet, says the younger Mr. Meyer belongs to a Jewish terrorist network, some of whose members have been charged with grave crimes, including the July arson attack that killed a Palestinian toddler and his parents in the West Bank village of Duma. The two suspects in that case also spent time in these hills.

The existence of the network, known as the Revolt for the title of its manifesto, became known about six months ago, after the arrest of several suspected members. This latest manifestation of Jewish terrorism is the creation of young extremists rebelling against what they view as the inertia of the Israeli establishment, and it has fermented in lawless outposts like Baladim, a tiny encampment outside Maale Shlomo, and Geulat Zion to the north.

To read the full article from The New York Times, click here.

U.S. Church Puts Five Israeli Banks on Investment Blacklist

By Barak Ravid

The pension fund for the United Methodist Church has blocked five Israeli banks from its investment portfolio in what it describes as a broad review meant to weed out companies that profit from abuse of human rights.

Senior officials in Israel's Foreign Ministry said they are still examining the decision, but added that Israel will make quiet efforts to convince the leaders of the church to change or soften the measure ahead of the Methodist General Conference in May.

The fund, called the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, excluded Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank, and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank, according to the pension board's website.

The Israeli bank stock the board sold off was worth a few million dollars in a fund with $20 billion in assets. The fund also sold holdings worth about $5,000 in the Israeli real estate and construction company Shikun & Binui, and barred the company from the pension group's investment portfolio.

For the full article on Haaretz, click here.

Stronger Unions for a Stronger Middle Class

The United States has long thought of itself as a middle-class nation, but that is less true today than it was 30 years ago. To strengthen the country’s middle class, policies are needed to increase wages and incomes so that more workers can improve their economic security.

A new report from the Center for American Progress, “What Do Unions Do for the Middle Class?”, examines how the decline of labor unions over the past three decades has hurt the American middle class and increased income inequality. Analyzing a variety of factors—including union membership and the residual effect union wages have on nonunion workers in similar jobs—the authors estimate that the decline in union coverage accounts for 35 percent of the falling share of middle-class workers.

As the national conversation continues to focus on income inequality, this report is an excellent resource for one component of rebuilding America’s middle class. We hope this report offers you helpful data and analysis for your efforts to build a more just economy for all.

SOA Graduates Arrested in Guatemala

Last week, eighteen former military officials were arrested on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in one of the largest mass arrests of military officers Latin America has ever seen. Twelve of them were trained at the SOA. The arrests happened one week before the January 14th inauguration of newly elected President Jimmy Morales, of the National Convergence Front (FCN).

Morales, whose party has close ties to the military, faces pressure in the face of the current developments. Morales' right hand man, Edgar Justino Ovalle Maldonado, who is also the FCN party co-founder, newly elected congressman, and retired colonel, is also facing similar charges, though he was not arrested because of his immunity as a congressman. Guatemala's Attorney General, however, has requested the Supreme Court look at the case to strip him of his immunity. Ovalle Maldonado, who is also an SOA graduate, is linked to massacres and disappearances during the 1980's.

Prison Ministry: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

By Dan Bucalos

This past year has brought attention to many important social justice issues, particularly as they relate to prison and jail ministry. The NBA Prison and Jail Ministry Affinity Group has been right at the center of many of these issues, not only lifting them up before the wider church, but also inspiring those in our communities of faith to action. Our work is about inspiration, advocacy, and education. And there is much work yet to be done. As we begin the new year, I thought I would highlight some of our accomplishments in 2015 to remind us of the important work we are about. (Rev. Bucalos meets with Senator Rand Paul in November 2015).