'Justice'

Defend California Children Hurt by Pesticides

Posted on 14. Oct, 2016 by .

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Over 140 agricultural pesticides of public health concern are used near California schools, daycares and preschools. These aren’t our numbers; this is hard data from the Department of Public Health. Health officials report that Latino children are more likely to attend schools near use of the most hazardous pesticides. Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren across the state are in harm’s way.

Last week, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) finally released a draft plan for protecting schoolchildren from drift-prone, health-harming pesticides. The proposal falls far short of what California kids need and deserve. Tell DPR they can — and must — do much better. The DPR has opened a public comment period.

Click here to sign the petition.

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Engaging in Politics as a Catholic

Posted on 14. Oct, 2016 by .

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Taken from catholicstarherald.com –

The Catholic Church’s most counter-cultural teaching is that politics is a good thing. Yes, despite our extreme polarization and our presidential candidates and the incivility in our current discourse, politics is a good thing and worth a holy effort to save.

Where does the church get such an unpopular idea? In its best form, politics is nothing more — and nothing less — than making decisions about how we want to structure our communities. God has made us social creatures, a truth reflected in the very first pages of Scripture, when Adam and Eve were given to each other so they would not be alone. Figuring out how to live well together is one of the most fundamentally human things we can do.

Pope Francis addressed this theme with his trademark directness and charm during a daily Mass homily in 2013. “Politics, according to the Social Doctrine of the Church, is one of the highest forms of charity, because it serves the common good. I cannot wash my hands, eh? We all have to give something!” he said. “A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern.”

There’s a lot of valuable stuff to unpack in those sentences. Let’s look at three of the Holy Father’s short phrases.

‘[Politics] serves the common good.’

The common good is a central theme of the Catholic Church’s social teaching. Saint John XXIII described it as “all those social conditions which favor the full development of humanity” in his encyclical Mater et Magistra (no. 20). In other words, what do individuals and communities need not only to merely get by, but to flourish?

The Catholic tradition judges our societies not based on how well those at the top are doing, but on how well those at the bottom are cared for. This bottom-up orientation comes straight from Jesus, who tells us that you can see Christ himself in the faces of the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, ill, and imprisoned (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Saint Teresa of Calcutta picked up on this theme, calling the desperately poor she served “Christ in his most distressing disguise.” We are called to build our communities with this sort of reverence for those who are marginalized.

A priest friend of mine uses the old “teach a man to fish” proverb to illustrate the role of politics in working for the common good. Sure, it’s better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish, but what if the water is polluted or there’s a fence built around the lake, keeping the hungry and poor out? What if the common good is compromised because access is limited? Scenarios like that require speaking up for justice to those who have the power to make changes. That’s politics.

imgresPolitics can lead to expanded access to health care and high-quality education, give the poor a hand up on the road out of poverty, safeguard human life from the womb until natural death, fight systemic racism, and transform war into peace. Politics is the best way to assure that the rights of those who are most vulnerable are protected.

While direct assistance to those in need is essential — like feeding the hungry and housing the homeless — politics can move societies toward long-term, community-wide solutions to big injustices. And this is why Pope Francis calls politics “one of the highest forms of charity.”

‘I cannot wash my hands, eh?’

At a faith-sharing gathering I went to a couple of years ago, one of the attendees said she just couldn’t pay attention to the news anymore because the stories were so relentlessly depressing. I could relate. The temptation to disengage from current events is so strong. Politics has the potential to be such a powerful vehicle for good, but we know that it’s often a breeding ground for corruption and injustice.

Pope Francis subtly acknowledges this temptation with his “we cannot wash our hands” line. Yes, there is evil around us, especially in politics. But it is because of this very evil that we are called to get involved. Our job is not to condemn politics, but to help redeem it. This is part of the human mission laid out in Genesis 2, when God places Adam and Eve in Eden to “cultivate and care for it” (2:15), a responsibility passed down to us descendants. We don’t get to bail. God requires our cooperation to take care of the planet and his children living here.

In the United States, one common reason Christians give for avoiding politics is fear of violating “the separation of church and state” — a phrase that doesn’t even appear in the United States Constitution, by the way. While our country’s founders didn’t want the government to sponsor or impinge on any particular religious tradition, the U.S. bishops argue that people of faith have the “moral obligation” to use their free speech rights to bring their values and voices to the public square (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, no. 13).

When I think of faith-based political action, I remember a few powerful meetings I have attended with elected officials, sitting alongside undocumented, Catholic immigrants who were there to speak up in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. They said things like, “Because of my faith, I believe that every person is a child of God and equal in his eyes. I think it’s wrong that my family has to live in fear that I’ll be deported. Our immigration laws have to change.”

A good Catholic meddles in politics.

So if politics is a high form of charity and cannot be ignored by people of faith, what’s a good Catholic’s meddling supposed to look like?

I bet the first thing that comes to mind for a lot of us is voting, especially during this election season. We are blessed in this country with the ability to help shape our own destiny by electing political leaders — a human right that the Catholic Church argues should be accessible in all nations. The U.S. bishops have a document called Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship that’s meant to help Catholics prepare to vote. This is an essential element of political involvement. But there’s so much more.

Georgetown’s John Carr also likes to say that if politicians go wherever the wind blows, it’s our job to change the wind. There are 1,532 days between the 2016 presidential election and the one in 2020. That’s a lot of time to raise our voices in legislative advocacy, speaking up with and for those who are often pushed to society’s margins. Our elected leaders should be hearing from Catholics all the time about issues that affect the common good, via phone calls, emails, handwritten letters, and in-person meetings. They should not be able to tell which party we belong to, as our church’s consistent defense of the most vulnerable means we agree with Republicans on some things and Democrats on others — and often not matching up perfectly even when we do agree.

Our national bishops’ conference, state-based Catholic conferences, and nonprofits like Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services monitor legislation and send out action alerts when key votes are coming up at various levels of government. As Nov. 8 approaches, absolutely do spend some time reflecting on how you will vote and why. But on Nov. 9, consider asking yourself how you might practice politics in the days between elections.

Whatever Catholic meddling in politics looks like, it should always be rooted in prayer. Pope Francis said all these things about politics while preaching on Saint Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, Chapter 2: “First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.” In other words, pray for your political leaders. They images-1need it. Also, pray for guidance for the rest of us, as it will only be through reliance on God’s grace that we’ll be able to build a politics that reflects divine peace, justice and love.

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10 Facts Mainstream Media Won’t Tell You About War In Syria

Posted on 13. Oct, 2016 by .

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Taken from popularresistance.org – Corporate media regularly attempts to present Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria as solely responsible for the ongoing conflict in the region. The media does report on events that contradict this narrative — albeit sparingly — but taken together, these underreported details shine a new light on the conflict.

10: Bashar al-Assad has a higher approval rating than Barack Obama

Despite Obama’s claims Assad is illegitimate and must step down, the fact remains that since the conflict erupted in 2011, Assad has held the majority support of his people. The elections in 2014 – which Assad won by a landslide with international observers claiming no violations – is a testament to the fact that although Assad has been accused of serious human rights violations, he continues to remain reasonably popular with the Syrian people.

Obama, on the other hand, won elections in 2012 with a voter turnout of a mere 53.6 percent of the American public; only 129.1 million total were votes cast. This means approximately 189.8 million American people did not vote for Obama. His current approval rating sits at about 50 percent.

9: The “moderate” opposition has been hijacked

There is no longer such a thing as “moderate” opposition in Syria – if there ever was. The so-called Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) has been dominated by extremists for years. The U.S. has known this yet has continued to support the Syrian opposition, despite the fact the New York Times reported in 2012 that the majority of weapons being sent to Syria have been ending up in the hands of jihadists. A classified DIA report predicted the rise of ISIS in 2012, stating:

“If the situation unravels, there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria… and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

Further, an FSA commander went on record not only to admit his fighters regularly conduct joint operations with al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria), but also that he would like to see Syria ruled by Sharia law.

Apparently, moderate can also mean “al-Qaeda affiliated fanatic.”

8: Assad never used chemical weapons on his own people

A U.N. investigation into the first major chemical weapons attack committed in early 2013 — an atrocity the West immediately pinned on Assad — concluded the evidence suggested the attack was more likely committed by the Syrian opposition. A subsequent U.N. investigation into the August 2013 attack never laid blame on anyone, including Assad’s forces. In December 2013, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh released an article highlighting deficiencies in the way the situation was handled:

“In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports…citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.”

7: Toppling the Syrian regime was part of a plan adopted shortly after 9/11

According to a memo disclosed by 4-star General Wesley Clark, shortly after 9/11, the Pentagon adopted a plan to topple the governments of seven countries within five years. The countries were Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Iran.

As we know, Iraq was invaded in 2003. American ally Israel tried its hand at taking out Lebanon in 2006. Libya was destroyed in 2011. Prior to this intervention, Libya had the highest standard of living of any country in Africa. In 2015, alone, it dropped 27 places on the U.N. Human Development Index rating. U.S. drones fly over Somalia, U.S. troops are stationed in South Sudan — Sudan was partitioned following a brutal civil war — and Syria has been the scene of a deadly war since 2011. This leaves only Iran, which is discussed below.

6: Iran and Syria have a mutual defense agreement

Since 2005, Iran and Syria have been bound by a mutual defense agreement. The Iranian government has shown they intend to fully honor this agreement and has provided the Syrian regime with all manner of support, including troops, a $1 billion credit line, training, and advisement. What makes this conflict even more dangerous, however, is the fact Russia and China have sided with Iran and Syria, stating openly they will not tolerate any attack on Iran. Russia’s military intervention in Syria in recent months proves these are not idle threats – they have put their money where their mouth is.

Iran has been in the crosshairs of the U.S. foreign policy establishment for some time now. George W. Bush failed to generate the support needed to attack Iran during his time in office — though not for lack of trying — and since 2012, sanctions have been the go-to mantra. By attacking and destabilizing Iran’s most important ally in the region, the powers that be can undermine Iranian attempts to spread its influence in the region, ultimately further weakening Iran.

5: Former Apple CEO is the son of a Syrian refugee

The late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, was the son of a Syrian who moved to the United States in the 1950s. This is particularly amusing given the amount of xenophobia, Islamophobia, racism and hatred refugees and migrants seem to have inspired — even from aspiring presidents. Will a President Donald Trump create the conditions in which future technological pioneers may never reach the United States? His rhetoric seems to indicate as much.

4: ISIS arose out of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, not the Syrian conflict

ISIS was formerly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq, which rose to prominence following the U.S.-U.K. led invasion of Iraq in 2003. It is well-known that there was no tangible al-Qaeda presence in Iraq until after the invasion, and there is a reason for this. When Paul Bremer was given the role of Presidential Envoy to Iraq in May 2003, he dissolved the police and military. Bremer fired close to 400,000 former servicemen, including high-ranking military officials who fought in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. These generals now hold senior ranking positions within ISIS. If it weren’t for the United States’ actions, ISIS likely wouldn’t exist.

ISIS was previously known by the U.S. security establishment as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), but these fighters ultimately became central to Western regime change agendas in Libya and Syria. When the various Iraqi and Syrian al-Qaeda-affiliated groups merged on the Syrian border in 2014, we were left with the fully-fledged terror group we face today.

3: Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia wanted to build a pipeline through Syria, but Assad rejected it

In 2009, Qatar proposed a pipeline to run through Syria and Turkey to export Saudi gas. Assad rejected the proposal and instead formed an agreement with Iran and Iraq to construct a pipeline to the European market that would cut Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar out of the route entirely. Since, Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have been staunch backers of the opposition seeking to topple Assad. Collectively, they have invested billions of dollars, lent weapons, encouraged the spread of fanatical ideology, and helped smuggle fighters across their borders.

The Iran-Iraq pipeline will strengthen Iranian influence in the region and undermine their rival, Saudi Arabia — the other main OPEC producer. Given the ability to transport gas to Europe without going through Washington’s allies, Iran will hold the upper-hand and will be able to negotiate agreements that exclude the U.S. dollar completely.

2: Leaked phone calls show Turkey provides ISIS fighters with expensive medical care

Turkey’s support for hardline Islamists fighting the Syrian regime is extensive. In fact, jihadists regularly refer to the Turkish border as the “gateway to Jihad.” In May 2016, reports started emerging of Turkey going so far as to provide ISIS fighters with expensive medical treatment.

Turkey is a member of NATO. Let that sink in for a moment.

1: Western media’s main source for the conflict is a T-shirt shop in Coventry, England

This is not a joke. If you follow the news, you most probably have heard the mainstream media quote an entity grandiosely called the “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights” (SOHR). This so-called “observatory” is run by one man in his home in Coventry, England — thousands of miles away from the Syrian conflict — yet is quoted by most respected Western media outlets (BBC,ReutersThe Guardian, and International Business Times, for example). His credentials include his ownership of a T-shirt shop just down the road, as well as being a notorious dissident against the current Syrian president.

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Despite the fact much of the information in this article comes from mainstream outlets, those circulating it refuse to put all of the storylines together to give the public an accurate picture of what is going on in Syria.

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The High Cost of Being Poor in the U.S.

Posted on 25. Sep, 2016 by .

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Despite recent U.S. Census Bureau data showing reductions in the poverty rate and increases in household median income, millions of Americans still face double jeopardy in today’s economy. They live below the poverty line, and they face high costs in areas such as rent, food, child care and predatory lending.
That’s the finding of a The High Cost of Being Poor in the U.S., a new report released today by the Coalition on Human Needs. Among the report’s highlights:
  • 59 percent of U.S. households with annual incomes below $20,000 spend more than half of their income on rent alone – and child care accounts for another exorbitant expense.
  • Anti-poverty programs help many. Programs such as low-income refundable tax credits, SNAP, free or reduced-price school lunch and child care subsidies have helped lift tens of millions of Americans out of poverty.
  • But many anti-poverty programs don’t reach many who are eligible and other programs would do more good if their benefits were higher or if more people were eligible.

“It is good news that the poverty rate is down, median household income is up, and more Americans are finally benefitting from an improved economy, coupled with federal programs that increase income or reduce expenses,” said Deborah Weinstein, Executive Director of the Coalition on Human Needs. “But the more troubling news is that the poor and near-poor live in a precarious situation. The simple fact is, it is expensive to be poor in the U.S.”

The High Cost of Being Poor in the U.S. found many ways in which it is expensive to be poor: Rents consuming huge proportions of income, higher food prices because of lack of access to markets, late fees for unpaid rent and evictions, poor housing conditions leading to health issues, which in turn lead to missed days of school or work; lack of paid sick days, paid leave, and unpredictable work schedules; and predatory lending practices such as pay day lending.

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Archbishop Cordileone Issues Statement on Death Penalty

Posted on 25. Sep, 2016 by .

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Three years ago at this time I was part of a delegation of California bishops who paid a pastoral visit to San Quentin State Prison.  While there, we had the opportunity to meet with a number of the inmates on death row, hearing their stories, learning of the misfortunes in their lives, and becoming sensitized to their deep spiritual yearnings and innate desire for God.  The experience put a human face on a tragic human condition that we very comfortably can – and usually do – completely ignore.

This experience also highlights the challenge we as a society face in determining how we can foster peace in this increasingly violent and complicated world.  The answer is certainly not by inflicting more violence.  As we, the Catholic bishops of California, said in our statement reaffirming our opposition to the death penalty: “Our support to end the use of the death penalty is also rooted in our unshakable resolve to accompany and support all victims of crime….  As we pray with them and mourn with them we must also stress that the current use of the death penalty does not promote healing.  It only brings more violence to a world that has too much violence already.”

We teach on this sensitive matter aware of the complexities of this issue, but also in communion with the bishops throughout the United States, with conferences of bishops throughout the world, and with the consistent teachings of the Popes of our time.  As Pope Francis has recently stated: “The death penalty is an offense to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person; it … does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance… the basic purpose of all punishment is the rehabilitation of the offender” (message to the 6th World Congress against the Death Penalty, June 2016).

As California citizens we have an opportunity to make our voices heard on behalf of the inviolability of human life and for rehabilitation over retribution.  I ask you to join me in voting to end the death penalty in our state by voting Yes on Proposition 62, and voting No on 66.  Doing so will put to end the myths of capital punishment – such as the assertion that it serves as a deterrent to violent crimes – and also to the flaws it perpetrates, such as its disproportionate use on the poor and minorities.  Most tragic of all, though, is the finality of the sentence: no restitution is possible for a wrongful execution.  Since 1973, 151 people have been released from death rows in the United States due to evidence of their wrongful convictions.  How many were not so fortunate?

Voting Yes on Proposition 62 will be a vote affirming the human dignity of those on death row, affording them the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves.  I also ask you to join me and my fellow California bishops by opposing Proposition 66.  This Proposition would expedite executions in California.  A rush to streamline that process will inevitably result in the execution of more innocent people.

In a decisive historical moment for the ancient people of Israel, when they were about to cross the Jordan River to occupy the Promised Land after wandering forty years in the Sinai Desert, Moses told them: “I set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you … may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

We are likewise at a decisive moment in our country and state, and we, too, are given the same choice, a choice we will make when casting our vote this November.  Let us choose life, then, that we may live.

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