Why People of Faith Oppose Drones

Posted at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-winkler/why-people-of-faith-oppos_b_7706034.html

By Jim Winkler, President, National Council of Churches

Posted: 07/01/2015 12:37 pm EDT Updated: 07/01/2015 12:59 pm EDT

There has been much sensationalistic coverage recently about a drone strike that killed the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Many have succumbed to the temptation to celebrate this death without stepping back and evaluating precisely what the larger drone war has accomplished. Recently, I joined nearly 30 of my fellow faith leaders to take on that exact issue. In a world of division, it is remarkable when people of diverse perspectives can agree – particularly people of diverse faiths. That is why I am proud to have joined my friends of faith in speaking with one united voice to express our common concerns with the U.S. government’s use of drone warfare.

From a range of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish perspectives, we jointly signed a letter urging the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress to halt its policy of lethal drone strikes. Despite the range of our different belief systems and ideas about warfare, we found that we shared many of the exact same questions and concerns about the drones program that led us to send this letter. Here are a few of those concerns.

First, we share a concern about the number of drone strike victims. The intrinsic value of human life is a key principle of our various beliefs. As the body count of both intended and unintended targets rises, we observe with alarm the ease with which warfare and killings have been expanded by the availability of this technology. Despite the U.S. government’s refusal to acknowledge most of its strikes, independent reports have been staggering. From the death of a grandmother in Pakistan to the bombing of a wedding convoy in Yemen, the deaths by drone strike feel arbitrary and senseless. Instead of traditional battlefields and uniformed armies, today’s wars increasingly look like killer robots flying into civilian communities to take a life in an everyday community. This transformation threatens the values we hold so closely by making killing so available.

Second, we are alarmed by the secrecy of the drone wars. Targets are chosen and killed in secret. Secret government officials decide who lives and who dies. Rarely do we find out who died, or why. The power to send machines into homes and communities to strike and kill is an enormous power. That enormous power currently invites misconduct and abuse because it is not accompanied by accountability. This secrecy is unacceptable and immoral. It prevents meaningful opposition and accountability, and allows unchecked killing power to continue indefinitely.

This leads to a final common concern, which is that the drone wars are not only immoral, but that they don’t work. Across the spectrum of faith and belief, we jointly observe the failure of drone strikes to bring true peace and security. This is evident from the fact that the traumatic and arbitrary presence of drones in communities has vastly increased extremist recruitment. This is evident from the increasing chaos in Yemen, and the spread of violent extremism across the globe.

More than anything else, drone strikes actively work against the potential for just, lasting peace. The kind of peace that involves political stability, economic opportunity, and restorative justice is impossible to reconcile with global, endless drone wars. That kind of security requires attention to the root causes of violence and turmoil, addressing the human needs that lead to extremist actions, and investment in political and economic structures that topple extremist movements and promote justice and opportunity.

We hope that the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress answer our letter. More than that, we hope that they address our concerns by acknowledging the failures of the drone wars, and the moral mandate to try something new.

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News and Action Summary for July 2, 2015

Download a pdf version of the July 2, 2015 News and Action Summary!

News Summary 7-2-15

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News Posts, July 2, 2015

Here are news articles posted since the previous News and Action Summary:

Fewer Than 1 in 4 Households Eligible for Housing Assistance Get It, But Congress Cuts Assistance Even More

Senator Casey Pushes for Expansion of Summer Meals Program

The Top Five Facts About Drilling and Taxes in Pennsylvania

Report Finds EPA Clean Power Plan Will Not Jeopardize US Power System Reliability

Victory for Democracy as Court Sides with Voters over ‘Self-Dealing Legislators’

America Tries to Fix Achievement Gaps on the Cheap without Addressing Opportunity Gaps

Time for Three Strikes and You’re Out for Banks?

New Poll: Rising American Electorate Will Be Game Changers in 2016 Elections

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Newly Posted Resources—July 2, 2015

Here are the most recently posted resources available for individuals and congregations:

Children’s Budget 2015 Available for Download

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Urge PA Legislators to Support a Fair Severance Tax for Natural Gas

From PennFuture (http://www.pennfuture.org):

Yesterday, legislative leaders sent Governor Wolf a budget he couldn’t sign and voters didn’t ask for. No severance tax on gas drilling. No investments in solar, wind, or energy efficiency. It’s a budget that looks more like the last four years of the status quo than a budget that moves Pennsylvania toward a sustainable future.

Governor Wolf made the right call: he vetoed the Legislature’s bad budget bill that lets natural gas drillers off the hook. Pennsylvania deserves better. In fact, voters across the Commonwealth have made it clear that they want a fair severance tax to support clean energy programs and a healthier environment.

We need to keep the pressure on. Tell your legislator that a serious budget must include a severance tax that invests in energy efficiency programs and a clean energy future at https://secure2.convio.net/penn/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=1047.

Thanks again for your support.

For more information on the budget:

Click on the link to view PennFuture’s severance tax fact sheets.

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Report Finds EPA Clean Power Plan Will Not Jeopardize US Power System Reliability

A February 19 report, by the Boston based Analysis Group, examined the design and implementation strategy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which is intended to reduce the U.S. electric system’s carbon pollution by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.  Their conclusion?  The Clean Power Plan will not jeopardize or compromise the reliability of the U.S. power system. The report, “Electric System Reliability and EPA’s Clean Power Plan: Tools and Practices,” addresses the impact of ongoing changes in the energy industry for stakeholders and also offers recommendations to ensure reliability.

The report demonstrates that “the industry, its reliability regulators, and the States have a wide variety of existing and modified tools at their disposal to help as they develop, formalize, and implement their respective State Plans.” In particular, it notes that, “These two responsibilities – assuring electric system reliability while taking the actions required under law to reduce CO2 emissions from existing power plants – are compatible, and need not be in tension with each other as long as parties act in timely ways.”

Here are key takeaways directly from the recent Analysis Group electric system reliability report:

Since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed its Clean Power Plan last June, many observers have raised concerns that its implementation might jeopardize electric system reliability.

Such warnings are common whenever there is major change in the industry, and play an important role in focusing the attention of the industry on taking the steps necessary to ensure reliable electric service to Americans.  There are, however, many reasons why carbon pollution at existing power plants can be controlled without adversely affecting electric system reliability.

Given the significant shifts already underway in the electric system (e.g., resulting from shale gas and a changing set of electric assets), the industry would need to adjust its operational and planning practices to accommodate changes even if EPA had not proposed the Clean Power Plan.

The standard reliability practices that the industry and its regulators have used for decades are a strong foundation from which any reliability concerns about the Clean Power Plan will be addressed.

As proposed by EPA, the Clean Power Plan provides states and power plant owners a wide range of compliance options and operational discretion (including  various market-based approaches, other means to allow emissions trading among power plants, and flexibility on deadlines to meet interim targets) that can prevent reliability issues while also reducing carbon pollution and cost.

Some of the reliability concerns raised by stakeholders about the Clean Power Plan presume inflexible implementation, are based on worst-case scenarios, and assume that policy makers, regulators, and market participants will stand on the sidelines until it is too late to act.  There is no historical basis for these assumptions.  Reliability issues will be solved by the dynamic interplay of actions by regulators, entities responsible for reliability, and market participants with many solutions proceeding in parallel.

There are many capable entities focused on ensuring electric system reliability, and many things that states and others can do to maintain a reliability electric grid.

In the end, the industry, its regulators and the States are responsible for ensuring electric system reliability while reducing carbon emissions from power plants as required by law.  These responsibilities are compatible, and need not be in tension as long as all parties act in a timely way and use the many reliability tools at their disposal.

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New Poll: Rising American Electorate Will Be Game Changers in 2016 Elections

Unmarried Women, People of Color and Millennials—Voters of the Rising American Electorate—Will Make Up a Majority of Voters for the First Time in 2016

Now available for streaming: Watch a panel discussion on C-SPAN from Monday about this new polling data, featuring WVWVAF President Page Gardner.

A national survey of likely 2016 voters released on Monday by the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund and Democracy Corps reveals that the Rising American Electorate will be game changers in the upcoming elections. Unmarried women, people of color and millennials—voters of the Rising American Electorate (RAE)—are the New American Majority of voting-eligible citizens and will make up a majority of voters for the first time in 2016. More than a year out, they already are showing strong enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton over her Republican challengers, according to the survey, when these RAE voters hear an agenda that speaks to their economic lives and promises a more efficient government untainted by big-money politics.

Just last week, the U.S. Census Bureau confirmed the growing power of the RAE. All races except non-Hispanic whites had more births than deaths between 2013 and 2014, and “millennials are more diverse than the generations that preceded them,” the Census Bureau reports. “The population as a whole has become more racially and ethnically diverse in just the last decade, with the percentage minority climbing from 32.9 percent in 2004 to 37.9 percent in 2014.”

“For the first time ever, the majority of votes in this next presidential election will be cast by the Rising American Electorate—the new American majority,” said Page Gardner, President and Founder of the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund. “Candidates simply can’t win without the support of unmarried women and the rest of the RAE—millennials, Latinos, African Americans, Asian-Americans and other people of color.”

Currently, Hillary Clinton has a sizable lead over prominent Republican contenders, the survey finds. Importantly, support for Clinton equals or exceeds President Obama’s performance in 2012 among the Rising American Electorate. And backing from white unmarried women has increased by 7 points over 2012.

Although the political horserace is difficult to predict at this early stage, the new survey makes clear that there is an underlying dynamic that is more long lasting. There will be three other “races” underway to win the support of the RAE over the next 17 months:

The Enthusiasm Race: RAE voters and unmarried women currently are less enthusiastic about the 2016 elections than their conservative counterparts, the poll shows. RAE voters also demonstrate real doubts about the ability of the government to deliver on the change they need. A 67 percent majority of Republicans and non-RAE voters describe their level of interest in the election in the highest terms (a “ten” on a ten-point scale). Among RAE voters, by contrast, that number drops to 48 percent.

The Women and Families Empowerment Race: One way to turn this around and spark the RAE’s enthusiasm is to promote the women and families economic agenda—proposals that work for women and families and call for equal pay, paid family leave, affordable child care and protecting Social Security and Medicare.

The Agenda Race: There is an overall agenda race, too, that affects voter enthusiasm. It’s an agenda focused on reforming the government and political system, combined with a broad economic agenda that provides working people—and working women—with the tools they need to improve their incomes and lives.

Messages that Move the Needle

RAE voters respond when they hear an agenda that addresses the economy of everyday Americans and promises a more responsive and effective government—as well as a government not corrupted by huge corporate campaign spending, the survey shows. Changes like equal pay, a solution to the problems with Medicare and Social Security, and a serious investment in our infrastructure find traction among base groups and blue-collar voters alike. Nineteen percent of unmarried women, 20 percent of RAE members and 16 percent of the RAE report being “more interested” in voting after hearing the agenda, versus 12 percent for Republicans after hearing the GOP agenda.

“The New American Majority is determining the New American Agenda,” Gardner said. “The key question is which candidates will be listening.”

Pollster Stan Greenberg conducted the national survey of 950 2016 likely voters from June 13-17, 2015, on behalf of Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund and Democracy Corps. For the first time, 60 percent of respondents were reached by cell phone, to account for ever-changing demographics and accurately sample the full American electorate. www.democracycorps.com

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Time for Three Strikes and You’re Out for Banks?

From the Center for Effective Government (http://www.foreffectivegov.org):

by Katherine McFate, 6/17/2015

In the United States, when individuals are convicted of felonies, they lose many rights and are often jailed. Forty-eight states ban felons from voting while they are in prison, and 11 states may ban felons from voting for the rest of their lives, depending on the nature of their crimes. Convicted felons also have a hard time getting jobs, particularly in occupations requiring high levels of trust – like banking.

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) regulations explicitly bar banks the agency insures from hiring or associating with “any person who has been convicted of any criminal offense involving dishonesty or breach of trust or money laundering, or has agreed to enter a pre-trial diversion or similar program in connection with a prosecution for such offense.”

So, if you commit fraud by writing a bad check and get convicted, a bank can’t hire you, but if you are a bank and have committed fraud on a massive scale, the FDIC will continue to insure your deposits.

While some bank lawyers were sitting across the table from Justice Department attorneys hashing out the details of last month’s plea deal and settlements, other bank employees and contractors were busy lobbying the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the U.S. Department of Labor for waivers to allow them continued access to special perks and privileges. Even after their organizations were found to have deliberately manipulated financial rules, they argued for expedited review of corporate stock offerings and the ability to continue to manage pension funds.

Read more at http://foreffectivegov.org/blog/time-three-strikes-and-youre-out-banks.

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PA General Assembly Attempting to Stop Oil & Gas Drilling Regulations

From PennFuture (http://www.pennfuture.org):

The State Legislature’s leadership and the drilling industry are attempting a secretive strategy to stop much needed regulations on oil and gas drilling. PennFuture needs your help to expose this back-room deal, which will create more pollution of our air, water, and land.

This past weekend, leadership in the House and Senate included legislation to halt new regulations on oil and gas drilling in a little known budget bill called the Fiscal Code (SB 655). The impact would be immediate: The Department of Environmental Protection would have to discard years of work, public debate, and citizen comment. It would allow drillers to continue polluting your drinking water and the air your kids breathe, without proper oversight for years to come.

Unfortunately, this is the latest chapter in the oil and gas industry playbook. They’ve tried unsuccessfully to stifle public comment during the development of these regulations. And they still argue that they should voluntarily regulate themselves, yet they’re regularly fined for, among other things, polluting our waterways.

Tell your legislator that these rules are critical to the health and safety of our families and our environment at https://secure2.convio.net/penn/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=1043. Let’s stop this undemocratic, anti-environmental, anti-Pennsylvanian back-room deal from slipping into the state budget. We the citizens of the Commonwealth deserve nothing less than an open, honest and transparent state government that works to protect us all. 

Thanks again for your support.

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America Tries to Fix Achievement Gaps on the Cheap without Addressing Opportunity Gaps

Posted at https://janresseger.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/america-tries-to-fix-achievement-gaps-on-the-cheap-without-addressing-opportunity-gaps/

It is a truth universally acknowledged (in the research literature) that schools themselves do not cause achievement gaps and that schools by themselves cannot close achievement gaps.  But we prefer to believe something else.

We blame schools when they don’t close the gaps quickly. We close the schools or fire their principals and teachers.  Or we create state “achievement” districts with distant overseer superintendents who monitor test scores.  Or our states create emergency managers with absolute power to override union contracts and fire entire school staffs if they like.  Or, for so-called “efficiency,” we turn the schools over to private management companies.  Cause and effect logic doesn’t operate much in the realm of school “reform.”

Today, this blog will review the evidence about the root causes of school achievement gaps and then look at the new study released this month from the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. about the achievement gap in place across America long before children enter Kindergarten.

Back in 1999, well before the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act that set out to close achievement gaps through test-based accountability, Helen Ladd and colleagues writing a school finance book for the National Research Council declared, “Achieving the goal of breaking the nexus between family background and student achievement requires special attention.” (Making Money Matter, p. 47)

Ten years later, Anthony Bryk and educational sociologists from the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago, described the challenges for a particular subset of schools in Chicago, Illinois that exist in a city where many schools serve low income children. The Consortium focuses on 46 schools whose students live in neighborhoods where poverty is extremely concentrated.  These “truly disadvantaged” schools are far poorer than the norm.  They serve families and neighborhoods where the median family income is $9,480.  They are racially segregated, each serving 99 percent African American children, and they serve on average 96 percent poor children, with virtually no middle class children present.  The researchers report that in the truly disadvantaged schools, 25 percent of the children have been substantiated by the Department of Children and Family Services as being abused or neglected, either currently or during some earlier point in their elementary career. “This means that in a typical classroom of 30… a teacher might be expected to engage 7 or 8 such students every year.”  “(T)he job of school improvement appears especially demanding in truly disadvantaged urban communities where collective efficacy and church participation may be relatively low, residents have few social contacts outside their neighborhood, and crime rates are high.  It can be equally demanding in schools with relatively high proportions of students living under exceptional circumstances, where the collective human need can easily overwhelm even the strongest of spirits and the best of intentions. Under these extreme conditions, sustaining the necessary efforts to push a school forward on a positive trajectory of change may prove daunting indeed.” (Organizing Schools for Improvement, pp. 172-187)

Then in 2011, Sean Reardon of Stanford University released massive data reports confirming the connection of school achievement gaps to growing economic inequality and residential patterns becoming rapidly more segregated by income across America’s large metropolitan areas. Reardon documents that across America’s metropolitan areas the proportion of families living in either very poor or very affluent neighborhoods increased from 15 percent in 1970 to 33 percent by 2009, and the proportion of families living in middle income neighborhoods declined from 65 percent in 1970 to 42 percent in 2009.  Reardon also demonstrates that along with growing residential inequality is a simultaneous jump in an income-inequality school achievement gap among children and adolescents.  The achievement gap between students with income in the top ten percent and students with income in the bottom ten percent is 30-40 percent wider among children born in 2001 than those born in 1975.

In 2013, here is what the historian Michael Katz and the professor of education Mike Rose concluded at the end of a book of academic essays about the current wave of school reform: “(A) rough consensus which crosses political lines blames poor teaching, ineffective teacher preparation programs, teachers’ unions, the lack of accountability for results, and monopolistic public systems for the failures of student achievement measured, primarily, by test scores.  In mainstream reform discourse, teachers and their unions emerge as the major villains…. Powerful foundations, the national government, and the media… reinforce and disseminate these views.  The reform agenda includes two primary components: first, hold teachers accountable for student achievement… and second, break up public monopolies by introducing choice, mainly in the form of charter schools…. The fact of the matter is that the ‘problem’ of American education is to a large extent a problem of poverty. By international standards, American students who attend schools where only a small percentage of students come from families with income below the poverty line measure up well against the best in the world.” (Public Education Under Siege, pp. 223-224)

And in 2013, Diane Ravitch summarized the dilemma: “Still the question remains: Should we ‘fix’ poverty first or ‘fix schools first?  It is a false choice.  I have never heard anyone say that our society should ‘fix’ poverty before fixing the schools.  Most thoughtful people who want to help children and families speak of doing both at the same time, or at least trying.  Yet here are all these powerful people saying we should ‘fix’ the schools first, then, someday, turn our attention to poverty.  Or maybe they mean that fixing schools will take care of poverty.  The reformers’ case is superficially appealing.  It ought to be easier to ‘fix’ schools than to ‘fix’ poverty, because poverty seems so intractable.  Our society has grown to accept poverty as an inevitable fact of life and there seems to be little or no political will to do anything about it.  It should also be cheaper to fix schools instead of poverty, because no matter how much it costs to fix schools, it will surely be less than the cost of significantly reducing poverty in a society with great economic inequality like our own.  The problem is that if you don’t really know how to fix schools, if none of your solutions actually improve education, then society ends up neither fixing schools nor doing anything about poverty.”  (Reign of Error, pp 92-93)

In this context, Emma Garcia of the Economic Policy Institute just published research that documents Inequalities at the Starting Gate, sizeable achievement gaps relating to income inequality that are well established before children enter Kindergarten.

Here is Garcia’s conclusion:  “Gaps based on socioeconomic status are very significant and prevalent, while those based on race/ethnicity are largely sensitive to the inclusion of socioeconomic status…  These findings indicate that inequalities at the starting gate are largely the result of accumulated social and economic disadvantages; that socioeconomic status or social class, is the single largest predictor of early education gaps and that gaps based on race are primarily a result of the many factors for which race mediates and that minority groups disproportionately experience.”

Garcia presents the demographic data that describes the children entering Kindergarten today: “Over half (52 percent) of white children are in the two highest socioeconomic quintiles (high-middle or high), while only 8.9 percent fall into the lowest SES quintile.  A similar pattern is true among Asian kindergartners: 59.9 percent are in the highest two quintiles, and 11.8 percent are in the lowest.  For black and especially for Hispanic children, however, the situation is reversed.  Over half (56.8 percent) of black children and over two-thirds (66.6 percent) of Hispanic children are in the two lowest quintiles, and fewer than one in 10 of either group are in the highest SES quintile (8.3 percent of black children and 6.8 percent of Hispanic children).  Another angle through which to see these numbers is the proportion of children who live in povery by race/ethnicity: 13.1 percent of white children, 17.3 percent of Asian children, and nearly half of black children (45.5 percent) and Hispanic children (46.3 percent).”

Garcia writes: “Overall, our results—showing significant socioeconomic-based gaps in cognative skills—confirm what multiple other research analyses (e.g. Reardon 2011) have found: that students’ levels of readiness and development are closely associated with their parents’ socioeconomic status.  Unadjusted differences in cognitive domains indicate that each move up a socioeconomic quintile in the SES distribution is associated with approximately a quarter of a standard deviation… improvement in performance in both math and reading, with students in the top quintile… scoring nearly a full standard deviation above students in the bottom quintile….”

Garcia attributes these results to the challenges experienced by children living in the lowest SES quintile and the enrichments being showered upon children in the top quintiles as inequality widens and affluent children are exposed to added travel and other programs and lessons.  Robert Putnam agrees. In his new book on the impact of rising inequality on children’s opportunity, Putnam describes the investments of middle and upper class parents in child-rearing: “Concerted cultivation refers to the child rearing investments that middle-class parents deliberately make to foster their children’s cognitive, social, and cultural skills, and, in turn, to further their children’s success in life, particularly at school…  Parents from all social backgrounds nowadays invest more money and more time in raising their kids than was true a generation ago…. but because affluent, educated families have not only more money but also more time… they have been able to increase their investments much faster than poor parents…. As a result, the class gap in investments in kids has become wider and wider.” (Our Kids, pp. 118-124)

Emma Garcia concludes her new report with suggestions about closing the opportunity gaps that exist long before children reach Kindergarten.  She absolutely endorses expanding the affordability, availability and quality of child care and pre-Kindergarten education.  She also advocates improving funding and programming in the public schools in our poorest communities.  But she adds: “The most straighforward way to decrease poverty among children and thus increase the resources available to them is to boost their parents’ incomes” including “policies aimed at increasing  overall wages and employment, especially at the lower rungs of the employment and wage ladders.” “Raising the minimum wage would also help ensure that parents working full-time do not have to rely on public assistance to provide their children with the basic necessities… We could also make those wages go further by increasing the earned income tax credit and child tax credit….  Raising incomes for middle-and low-social class families is key to ensuring their children do not grow up in poverty… Closing education gaps… calls for policies that address…  structural factors that influence a child’s odds of growing up poor.”

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