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A Minimum of Justice: “On Nov. 5, 2013, the people of SeaTac, Wash., enacted the highest minimum wage in the country, $15 an hour, more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.  On Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, Wal-Mart workers at more than 1,500 store locations conducted protests and informational pickets.  Fast-food workers in more than 100 cities protested in front of McDonald’s, KFC, and Taco Bell stores, calling for wage increases.  Across the U.S., a grassroots movement is blossoming to address the extreme inequality of wealth and wages. Led by low-wage workers and bolstered by faith community leaders, this movement is shining a spotlight on the glaring disparity of wages, wealth, and opportunity. 

“The wealthiest 1 percent of households, those with annual incomes over $555,000, now receive more than 21 percent of all income.  Meanwhile, millions of low-wage workers subsist on the federal minimum wage, which is $15,080 a year for a full-time worker.  As a result, many low-wage workers depend on charity and public subsidies such as food stamps and Medicaid to survive. If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1968, it would now be $10.74, enough to boost a family of three over the federal poverty line, according to the Economic Policy Institute. If the minimum wage had increased at the pace of worker productivity, if would be $18.72 an hour today. Federal legislation has been introduced to raise the minimum wage over three years to $10.10. …But this proposal faces bleak prospects in our grid-locked Congress.”

(From Sojourners, March 2014)

Economic Inequality Growing: “On January 20, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Joseph Stiglitz, professor at Columbia University and recipient of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics, gave the keynote address at a roundtable themed ‘The threat of growing inequalities: Building more just and equitable societies to support growth and  sustainable development’… In addressing the issue of inequalities, Stiglitz quoted Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, ‘True revolutionary values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of our present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside but that will be an initial act.  One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be changed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway …’ and, ‘[We] must honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society.  There are 40 million poor people here and one day we must ask the question ‘Why are there 40 million poor people in America?’’ This problem highlights the economic system and broader distribution of wealth that in recent years have caused much suffering and weakened societies.

“Stiglitz pointed out that during the recent economic recovery, 95 percent of all gains have gone to the wealthiest one percent of the population. This unequal distribution of wealth was ‘hollowed’ out of the middle section of the population whose salaries have remained stagnant for four decades.  Other forms of inequality also exist: the inequality of opportunity, inequality of wealth, inequality of access to education, inequality to clean environments, as well as inequality due to gender, often ingrained through cultural practices and discrimination. The growth in inequalities is not only determined by the laws of economics but is also determined by politics and the policies that govern them. …In order to correct the imbalance that is resulting in social unrest, the funneling of wealth to the top one percent ought to be corrected in order to bridge the gap that has continued to deepen.  The world does not lack resources for all to live in equality and indignity but the distribution of available resources has not been equal.  Distributive justice guided by ethical principles that promote equality need to accompany the discussions that will lead to a robust and successful post-2015 development agenda.”

(From NewsNotes, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, March-April 2014)

Concerns about Keystone XL Continue: “The U.S. State Department will begin this week tapping into the deluge of feedback that has poured in during the final public comment period regarding the construction of the northern segment of the Keystone XL transnational pipeline. The controversial project, if approved by President Barack Obama within the next few months, would stretch nearly 1,700 miles and transport more than 800,000 barrels of oil per day from the Canadian tar sands in Alberta through six states en route to Gulf refineries in Texas. Along the way, the proposed northern section of the path (about 1,100 miles) would cross the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers, as well as key sources of drinking and agricultural water, such as the Ogallala aquifer, which covers nearly all of Nebraska and portions of seven other states.

“The southern portion, which did not require State Department approval since it did not cross an international border, is already constructed and began shipping oil in January. At the end of January, the state Department released its final environmental risk report, concluding that rejecting the pipeline would do little to impede the oil sands’ emissions.  …Canadian tar sands oil is considered a dirtier oil than other crudes.  Studies have suggested tar sands oil can emit 20 percent more carbon emissions than conventional oil.” Tar sands extraction methods also use large quantities of water, something the world can’t afford given increasing water scarcity around the globe. “…environmental destruction, which has attacked ancient Boreal forests in Alberta tar sands territory, could also ruin similarly pristine lands along the U.S. route.”

(From National Catholic Reporter, March 11, 2014)

Greenpeace Activists Protest P&G: “Nine Greenpeace activists were arraigned Wednesday, a day after they walked past security at Procter & Gamble headquarters in Cincinnati, zip lined between the headquarters’ towers and hung banners in protest of the company’s palm oil supplier.  The environmental activist group is accusing P&G of enabling the destruction of rainforests in Indonesia by working with an irresponsible palm oil supplier. It specifically objects to P&G buying supplies from BW Plantation Group and unnamed traders it claims threatens orangutans and tigers that live in the rainforest.  Palm oil is a common ingredient in detergents, shampoos and cosmetics. P&G uses palm oil to make everyday products such as Head & Shoulders and Oil of Olay. …The protestors, six men and three women, worked in two teams: one in the north tower and one in the east tower …

“The activists climbed out of the building 12 stories up, used zip cords to rappel down the building and unfurled 60-foot banners.  The ninth one in the group, a female, dangled on a zip cord between the towers wearing a tiger suit. The incident began about 1 p.m. Tuesday and the activists were under arrest two hours later. …The environmental activists were each charged with felony counts of burglary and vandalism Wednesday, charges that carry a maximum sentence of 9½ years in prison.  They spent Tuesday night locked up at the Hamilton County, Ohio, jail without bond. …They do not have criminal records and work in professional jobs, such as teachers or business owners, and one is a former U.S. Marine …P&G officials said Tuesday that they are looking at Greenpeace’s claims and had already committed to obtaining sustainable palm oil by 2015.”

(From The Cincinnati Enquirer, March 5, 2014)

Militarization Growing in Honduras: “In the presidential election in Honduras last November, ruling party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez was declared the winner despite serious irregularities documented by international observers.  Violence and intimidation marked the campaign period, including the assassination of at least 18 candidates and activists from Libre, the new left-leaning party. Hernandez, past president of the Honduran National Congress, supported the June 2009 coup. His record of operating outside the rule of law includes bold measures to gain control over the congress, judiciary, military, and electoral authority.  He helped establish a new military police force in August 2013, deploying thousands of troops to take over police functions. Hernandez ran on a campaign promise to put ‘a soldier on every corner.’ Honduras has been named the ‘murder capital of the world,’ with relentless violence coming from crime, drug cartels, and police corruption.  Attacks on human rights defenders and opposition activists have been brutal and have allegedly involved death squads reminiscent of the 1980’s.

“Those working to reverse poverty and injustice receive death threats, priests and lay leaders among them.  They are bracing for even greater repression under Hernandez’s administration. The growing militarization of Honduran society, justified as a way of fighting crime, is fueled by U.S. support for the country’s security forces – forces reportedly involved in widespread human rights violations. By denying the repression against social movements, and congratulating the Honduran government for its supposed progress on human rights, the U.S. Embassy has made it possible for rampant impunity to continue. …Historically, Honduras has been a reliable source of cheap labor and export crops. Today, its energy, mineral, and water resources are being sought. Extractive industries, biofuel plantations, and hydroelectric dam projects are ravaging the environment and uprooting indigenous communities, often displacing and killing those who stand in the way.”

(From Sojourners, April, 2014)

Thousands Starving in Kenya: “A bishop in northwestern Kenya said people are so hungry they are eating wild fruit, roots of trees and dog meat.  ‘Food must reach here soonest to save the people from death,’ said Bishop Dominic Kimengich of Lodwar, where most residents are animal farmers and ethnic Turkana.  The area has been hit by drought.  The bishop said an estimated 63,000 households – about 460,000 people – are facing starvation. Kenyan government officials estimate 1.7 million people, mostly in the country’s northern region, need food relief.  Bishop Kimengich said his people also face constant insecurity.  In November, Turkana farmers were invaded by neighboring Pokot people over land ownership claims. In 2011, the Kenyan government announced the discovery of oil on the land, and last year it announced the discovery of water reserves.  Although the government has promised food relief, the bishop said, ‘It’s hard to say food has reached all the affected people in the country.  Government food is usually slow in arriving.’ Bishop Kimengich said that in Lodwar, church officials were feeding an estimated 500 people every week.”

(From America, March 3, 2014)

Immigration Reform Still a Dream: “Juana Tobar says she is waiting for a miracle from God.  She’s the mother of four wonderful children and a grandmother of two young girls.  Her husband, Carlos, a U.S. citizen, calls her the ‘glue of the family’ and his soul mate.  Juana has lived in North Carolina for more than 20 years and serves as an usher in her church, but in the coming weeks the Obama administration will be deciding whether or not to deport her back to Guatemala. Juana’s case is not unusual.  According to its own statistics, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has deported approximately 400,000 immigrants per year since President Obama took office in 2009.  In March, he’s set to reach the dubious marker of 2 million deportations, more than any other president. …One of the key discrepancies between ICE and its critics is the question of who is being deported.  In 2011, the administration issued a memo vowing to focus deportations on ‘convicted criminals,’ a scary label until you realize how DHS defines the term. 

“Immigrants commit crimes at much lower rates than the native born, so there are only so many serious criminals to find and deport.   Thus, ICE has come to define ‘criminal’ loosely, covering both violent felons and people who get a traffic ticket.  A substantial number of those who are deported don’t count as ‘criminals’ even under that definition. And many are the parents of U.S. citizens – people like Juana Tobar.   Last June, immigrants like the Tobar family got some good news.  The Senate passed a bill that would offer a 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who met certain requirements. … Yet Republican leadership in the House was quick to dismiss the bill and spent the next six months downplaying the need for reform. When 1,100 immigrants are deported every day, each day of delay truly matters. …At this point, it’s still hard to say what solution the country will reach this year, but we do know the stakes are higher than ever to make sure that thousands more mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons don’t have to keep wondering how much longer they’ll be able to live together as a family.”

(From Sojourners, April 2014)

Mountaintop Removal Endangers Community Health: “Soon after Dr. Michael Hendryx assumed a professorship of health policy management at West Virginia University, he started hearing stories of sick people in Appalachian communities near mountaintop removal coal mining operations.  Finding no scientific research that examined the correlation between mountaintop removal and community health, Hendryx and his colleagues began overseeing family health surveys and compiling health data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2011, Peter Illyn of Restoring Eden (Christians for Environmental Stewardship) has recruited and led student volunteers from Catholic and evangelical Christian colleges in conducting door-to-door community health surveys for Hendryx’s research. …Now, more than two dozen published peer-reviewed studies show a high correlation between populations living amid MTR operations and very high rates of morbidity, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, cancer, and birth defects. Mountaintop removal is a method of extracting thin seams of coal from mountains in West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia, and eastern Tennessee. 

“More than 5 million pounds of explosives each day blast mountains apart, spewing vast quantities of harmful silica and aluminum compounds into the atmosphere. Coal is separated and hauled out – the remaining huge quantity of rock rubble is typically bulldozed down into adjacent valleys and streams….More than 300,000 West Virginia residents learned on Jan. 9 that a toxic leak from Freedom Industry’s chemical storage tanks entered the downstream intake for their drinking water. …The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection had never inspected the chemical storage tank site in decades of operation. State policymakers beholden to dominant coal, gas, and chemical industries persistently push back on environmental and safety regulations, including what they call the ‘war on coal’ by the EPA. Ironically, the very day the chemical leak was discovered, all three West Virginia members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted for a bill to weaken hazardous-substances cleanup.”

(From Sojourners, April 2014)

Hunger Drives Sectarian Conflict in Africa: “Hunger, not religion, is the root cause of conflict in sub-Saharan Africa, said Charles Steinmetz of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.  ‘A hungry man is an angry man. If there is no job and you cannot feed your family or kids, it leads to extremism,’ said Steinmetz, a visiting assistant professor of history.  He used as an example the rampages of the Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.  Steinmetz said the Islamic extremist group, which has killed 250 people in recent attacks, including 59 children, ‘sees the government as unable to assist the people.’  Though it appears that the violence comes from religious differences, in many ways ‘it is almost coincidental that these issues break across religious lines,’ Steinmetz said.  An underlying cause of conflict in Nigeria is the legacy of colonialism.  Colonial powers in Nigeria gave more aid and infrastructure to the southern part of the country.  Now the development of the South has led to a much stronger economy.  ‘The North is so far behind,’ Steinmetz said, that resentments have caused even moderate northern Nigerians to side with the radical group.”

(From America, March 24, 2014)

Probation for Profit: “Two people receive a $400 citation for driving without a valid license. One mails a check to the court and moves on.  The other, unemployed and unable to pay the fine in full, is placed on ‘pay-only probation.’  The person is required to make smaller payments plus additional ‘supervision fees’ over months or even years – under the constant threat of jail time for a missed payment – until the ever-growing debt is paid down.  The poorer an offender is, the longer it takes to scrape together payments and the more fees accumulate.  Private probation companies, working with over 1,000 courts across the United States, exploit this fundamental injustice in order to make a profit. A report released by Human Rights Watch on Feb. 5 details abusive practices in Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama, where this offender-funded model of criminal justice prevails. 

“Probation companies offer cash-strapped counties a deal that seems too good to be true: at no cost to the taxpayer, they will collect debts owed to the court by low-level offenders, who are required to pay supervision fees to the company as a condition of their probation.  In 1983 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to revoke probation because a person is unable to pay a fine. While it is the responsibility of a judge to determine a probationer’s ability to pay, in practice this decision is often delegated to the service providers, who have a financial stake in the outcome.  According to Human Rights Watch, private officers routinely threaten and use incarceration to extract payments from indigent offenders and their families.”

(From America, March 10, 2014)

Support for Death Penalty Declining: “A recent poll conducted by the Barna Group shows that the number of young Christians who support the death penalty is in decline. Only 32 percent of Christian millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, agreed that the government should be able to execute ‘the worst criminals.’ The number was even lower among those who attend church services at least one time per month, with only 23 percent of ‘practicing Christian’ millennials supporting capital punishment. ‘This parallels a growing trend in the pro-life conversation among Christians to include torture and the death penalty as well as abortion,’ said Roxanne Stone, vice president for publishing at the Barna Group.  ‘For many younger Christians, the death penalty is not a political dividing point but a human rights issue.’”

(From U.S. Catholic, March 2014)

Challenging High Rate of U.S. Incarceration: “‘The church in the United States has a moral and ethical imperative to protect human dignity and must address the problem of mass incarceration in our nation,’ the leaders of Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A. said in a statement issued on Feb. 7 in Newark, N.J.  The coalition includes the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  The statement continues, ‘We recognize that the legacy of the dehumanization of people of color has borne lasting effects in current-day society’ and cites slavery and Jim Crow laws as examples of ‘subjugation’ until civil rights laws passed nearly 50 years ago tried to right it.  ‘We see the vestiges of these systems of human control in America’s current system of mass incarceration.’ Christian Churches Together added, ‘These systems are not only affecting African-Americans. They are now impacting all people of color, the poor, the marginalized, and the immigrant in the United States.’”

(From America, March 17, 2014)

California Bishop: Sign up for Health Insurance: “Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of San Bernardino urged Catholics in his diocese to comply with federal law and sign up for health insurance if they have not already done so. In a March 11 letter he said he wished to provide ‘some clarification and some direction regarding the new federal health care law. As you may know, the Affordable Care Act requires that all legal residents of the country carry health insurance by April 1.  Failure to comply with this law will result in fines that increase progressively each year,’ he wrote. The bishop said the Hispanic communities in particular have had a lower percentage of health insurance enrollments. ‘However, to ignore this law or put it off will result in negative financial consequences for you and your family,’ he wrote. Bishop Barnes said that although the insurance requirement does not apply to those who have undocumented status, it does apply to children with legal residency in the United States. ‘Please be aware of this and your responsibility to sign your child up for health insurance immediately,’ he wrote in letters in both English and Spanish.
 
“The bishop pointed out that the Catholic Church ‘has raised objection to elements of the law that relate to contraception and abortions services that might be provided through it.  We continue to address these issues with lawmakers and through the courts, which I fully support. However, these factors do not mean that we, as Catholics, should disobey the new health care law,’ he added. The bishop said that if Catholics in his diocese have an insurance plan that ‘includes services that are objectionable to our faith, which most plans in California do, our response is not to utilize these services. …He stressed that the Affordable Care Act is ‘now part of civil law and as faithful citizens we are obligated to follow it.’  Bishop Barnes said the law offers an opportunity for many who have not had health insurance to obtain it which he said will ‘affirm the dignity of many people and improve the quality of life’ – a chief reason the U.S. bishops have been advocating for health care reform, he noted.”
 (From America, March 26, 2014)

Vatican Calls Religious to Live Poorly, Reject Capitalism: “The Vatican office responsible for the approximately 900,000 priests and brothers and sisters in religious orders around the world called on them this weekend to re-evaluate their holdings of wealth and to issue critiques of the global market capitalist economy, calling it unjust to the world’s neediest. Holding a conference near the Vatican for some 500 treasurers of the global orders Saturday and Sunday, the Vatican office looked back to the earliest teachings of the church, calling on the religious to reject accumulation of goods in order to follow Jesus, ‘the poor man who lives in solidarity with the poor.’ Those were the words of Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo, the secretary of the Vatican congregation, who in opening remarks also said, ‘Disciples must have nothing, not bread, not money in their bags.’ Carballo continued, critiquing orders that have accumulated wealth over the years: ‘We always justify accumulation for the mission, but then that money doesn’t arrive at the mission.’ …

“Over some 15 talks during the two days, speakers selected by the office focused both on practical questions facing religious orders around the world – particularly how to cope with extra property and assets in an age of dwindling vocations to religious life – and on wider issues, like how religious should respond to disparities in the global economic system. A constant theme during the event, held at Rome’s Franciscan-run Pontifical University of St. Anthony, was criticism of the capitalist system, which several speakers called a ‘structure of sin’ that purposefully does not attend to the needs of the poorest. … [Stefano] Zamagni …a member of the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences, critiqued particularly the American model of capitalism, which he said allows people to exploit the world’s resources to gather wealth and then only expects them to focus on charitable work once they are wealthy. ‘A Christian just cannot accept this,’ Zamagni said. ‘It is not me saying this. It is the sacred Scriptures. We cannot accept this logic.’”

(From National Catholic Reporter, March 10, 2014)

Seeking Peace, Security in Syria: “On February 22, the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2139 demanding ‘that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, promptly allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for UN humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners, including across conflict lines and across borders.’ In the resolution, the council strongly condemned the widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by Syrian authorities, and urged all parties involved in the conflict to lift sieges of populated areas, including Aleppo, Damascus and rural Damascus, and Homs. They underscored the importance of medical neutrality and demanded the demilitarization of medical facilities, schools and other civilian facilities. The Security Council members requested the Secretary-General to report on the implementation of the resolution by all parties in Syria in 30 days and every 30 days thereafter, and said ‘upon receipt of the Secretary-General’s report, [the Security Council] expresses its intent to take further steps in the case of non-compliance with this resolution.

“According to the UN, over 100,000 people have been killed and an estimated nine million others driven from their homes since the conflict erupted between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and various groups seeking his ouster nearly three years ago.  More than 2.4 million refugees are registered in the region: some 932,000 in Lebanon; 574,000 in Jordan; some 613,000 in Turkey; 223,000 in Iraq; and about 134,000 in Egypt. …In addition to meeting the massive humanitarian needs of the Syrian people, keeping peace talks alive is crucial or the spiral of violence will almost inevitably worsen. Negotiations are repeatedly undercut by the continued supply of weapons to all sides, permitting those who refuse to negotiate to keep fighting.  Many Syrians committed to nonviolence and organizations working in solidarity with them, including Pax Christi International, are pleading for an immediate end to the delivery of arms, ammunition and weapons parts to combatants in Syria and an immediate end to international support for foreign fighters operating in Syria.”

(From NewsNotes, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, March-April 2014)

Economic Woes, Violence in Venezuela: “Deep economic problems and violent demonstrations in Venezuela have left Catholic charities struggling to supply food and medical supplies amid an increase in demand for services, said a top Catholic aid official.  ‘The situation has been getting worse over the last year, but now we’re at the point where it has become very difficult for us to even find basic [food items] or to buy medications,’ Janeth Marquez de Soler, executive director of Caritas Venezuela, told Catholic News Service March 10.  Shortages of basic foods, rising inflation, high crime and political divisions have led to tense protests across Venezuela in the past month as opponents of President Nicolas Maduro and thousands of students have taken to the streets to demand changes.  Demonstrations on several occasions turned violent, however, leaving at least 21 people dead and prompting the bishops of Caracas to issue a letter calling for calm.

“In the March 7 letter, Caracas Archbishop Jorge Urosa Savino and his auxiliary bishops said, ‘We reject armed attacks committed by any citizen.’ The letter took issue with both the government’s response to the demonstrations as well as the tactics used by protesters who have also resorted to violence. ‘The bishops call attention to the need for the government to listen to the protesters’ demands and effectively respond to their complaints,’ the letter said.  ‘Equally, the bishops make clear that we also reject the violence, coming from wherever it comes, as much from the protests as from the repression of those protests.’ The letter highlighted the use of force by the government, calling for authorities to instruct security forces on the use of proportional force.”

(From America, March 13, 2014)

SJB Friars Commit to Refugees, Migrants and Victims of Human Trafficking: The Franciscan Friars of St. John the Baptist Province based in Cincinnati, Ohio, held their 2008 Chapter at St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana May 19-23. Of the many proposals passed, the Chapter delegates affirmed a resolution to learn more about the issues of migrants, refugees and victims of human trafficking in order to better be able to respond to their needs. The resolution says:
 “We, the Franciscans of St. John the Baptist Province, commit ourselves to increase our awareness of issues surrounding refugees, migrants and victims of human trafficking in order to develop more proactive Franciscan responses on the provincial, friary and personal level.”
SJB Friars Commit to Non-violence: The Franciscan Friars of St. John the Baptist Province based in Cincinnati, Ohio, held their 2005 Chapter at the University of Dayton, May 23-27. Among the many proposals that were passed, the Chapter delegates affirmed a resolution introduced by their JPIC Office in which they committed themselves to “continued conversion to a life of Franciscan non-violence in support of a consistent ethic of life.” The complete resolution follows.
“As Franciscans, we affirm the sacredness of all human life and the inherent value of all creation. In a world where violence is rampant, we wish to be a sign of hope, actively promoting the preservation of life, peace among people and nations, justice for all and reconciliation. We commit ourselves to continued conversion to a life of Franciscan non-violence in support of a consistent ethic of life.”