Read Convention Against Torture Shadow Report—Sign Amnesty International Petition

From the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (http://www.nrcat.org):

In November, the United Nations Committee Against Torture will review the U.S. government under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). In preparation, NRCAT has submitted an Interfaith CAT Shadow Report available at http://www.nrcat.org/storage/documents/nrcat-cat-shadow-report-2014.pdf for download.

The report spotlights the human rights and moral implications of the torture of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, jails and detention centers, as well as the disproportionate impact on people and communities of color. We invite you to read and share this report with members of your faith community.

Despite claims made by the U.S. government in response to a request from the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture that “[t]here is no systematic use of solitary confinement in the United States,” the U.S. remains a global outlier in its use of solitary confinement and mass incarceration.

NRCAT has joined our human rights partners in continuing to pressure U.S. government officials who continue to deny the request of UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez to visit U.S. prisons and facilities that use prolonged isolation.  Amnesty International has launched an online petition (https://campaigns.amnesty.org/actions/us-super-maximum-security-prisons-must-be-opened-up-for-un-scrutiny) addressed to Secretary Kerry to allow the Special Rapporteur access to isolation facilities.

We invite you to share the NRCAT CAT shadow report and invite members of your faith community to study the report and take action by signing the Amnesty International petition.

Background:

Entombed: Isolation in the US Federal prison system,” a 2014 report by Amnesty International

U.S. Government Tells UN Committee on Torture: ‘There Is No Systematic Use of Solitary Confinement in the United States’” by Jean Casella, Solitary Watch

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Infographic: Why Obamacare Enrollees Need to Take Action in the Months Ahead

From Enroll America (http://www.enrollamerica.org):

We’re excited to share a new infographic that describes the simple steps people enrolled in marketplace coverage need to take — starting November 15 — to stay covered for next year:

Obamacare infographic

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Support Policies to Make Child Care Affordable for All

From the National Women’s Law Center (http://www.nwlc.org/):

We’re turning a corner on child care — but we’ve still got a lot of work to do.

Recently we released a new state-by-state report, Turning the Corner: State Child Care Assistance Policies 2014. We found that families in 33 states are doing better under one or more key child care policies than they were last year. Yet in 13 states, families are worse off than they were before under one or more policies.

No family should have to struggle to afford something as essential as child care.

Stand with Children and Families: Make a difference for families in your state. Pledge to support key policies to make child care affordable to all.

High-quality child care provides countless early learning opportunities to children and enables parents to be productive at work so they can support their families.

Our new report examines five critical factors that affect the help families can get in paying for child care. It’s up to us to urge policy makers to build on the positive trends we saw between 2013 and 2014 by making smart investments that help vulnerable women and their children succeed.

Take the pledge to stand with children and families.

P.S. Want to see where your state stands on key child care assistance policies? Download the full report.

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Report: State School Spending Less Than 2008; Yellen: School Spending Disparities Increase Inequality

Posted at http://janresseger.wordpress.com/2014/10/21/report-state-school-spending-less-than-2008-yellen-school-spending-disparities-increase-inequality/

At a Federal Reserve Conference on Economic Opportunity & Inequality in Boston last week, Janet Yellen, the Federal Reserve Chair, delivered a speech on inequality in which, according to Bloomberg Business Week, she said,  “public education spending is often lower for students in lower-income households than for students in higher-income households,” and described inequality in public education funding as a primary factor that blocks opportunity.  Comparing the United States to other nations, she continued, “A major reason the United States is different is that we are one of the few advanced nations that funds primary and secondary public education mainly through subnational taxation.”

The Business Week reporter sought comments on Yellen’s address from school finance experts including Rutgers professor Bruce Baker, who declared that in recent years, even in states like New Jersey and Massachusetts whose formulas have historically done a pretty good job of allocating additional state assistance for poorer school districts, “There’s been a substantial decline in state aid to schools for funding equity.”

Last week, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) updated its research on the decline in overall spending for public education since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008.  The new study, Most States Still Funding Schools Less than Before the Recession, is the latest in what is becoming a discouragingly long series of reports on what CBPP describes as the propensity of more than half the states to deal with ongoing fiscal crises by reducing public school services rather than raising taxes.  Earlier reports are here, here, and here.

The new report examines state funding-per-pupil during the 2014-2015 school year, when 30 states provided less per student than prior to the 2008 recession, with 14—Oklahoma, Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Wisconsin, Kansas, North Carolina, Utah, Maine, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, Virginia, and South Carolina— reducing funding by more than 10 percent.  According to CBPP, while many states have in fact increased state funding for education during the past year, even with the added money, more than half have not yet reached the amount they were spending back in 2007-2008 (in inflation-adjusted dollars).

States have reduced spending on K-12 public education and also reduced funding for state universities and colleges despite that “there are about 725,000 more K-12 students and 3.2 million more public college and university students than there were in 2007-2008.”  At the height of the recession, public school districts were forced to cut 330,000 teachers and other staff.  While by 2012, districts had been able to restore some of those positions, a total of 260,000 school staff positions had been lost due to budget cuts.

Spending for K-12 public education is made up, on average of 46 percent state funding and 10 percent federal funding with the rest raised through local taxation.  Despite that federal funding is only a tiny slice of the funding pie, that small piece has been reduced at the same time states have cut back.  The federal reductions have further cut programs that poor school districts count on: “For example, since 2010, federal spending for Title I—the major federal assistance program for high-poverty schools—is down 10 percent after adjusting for inflation, and federal spending on disabled education is down 8 percent.  These cuts include the automatic, across-the-board cuts known as sequestration and the additional cuts also resulting from the budget Control Act of 2011.”

CBPP reports that, “Between fiscal years 2008 and 2012, states closed 45 percent of their budget gaps through spending cuts and only 16 percent of their budget gaps through taxes and fees (they closed the remainder of their shortfalls with federal aid, reserves, and various other measures). Not only did many states avoid raising new revenue after the recession hit, but recently some have enacted large tax cuts, further reducing state revenues.”

For a number of reasons, explains CBPP, local school districts have been unable to raise enough in local taxes to make up for reduced state funding: “Property values fell sharply after the recession hit, making it difficult for local school districts to raise significant additional revenue through the property tax…. Property values have improved since then but remain below pre-recession levels nationally.  Further, property tax revenue in most states has not yet fully captured the property value increases that have occurred. (There’s generally a significant time lag between when home prices rise and when property tax assessments register the increase.) Local school districts can pursue property tax rate increases, but those increases usually are politically difficult and sometimes legally restricted.  For all these reasons, property tax revenue growth nationwide has been modest….”

In her speech at the Conference on Economic Opportunity & Inequality in Boston last week, Janet Yellen named public spending on education as a primary “building block for expanding opportunity.”   A pattern of continued tax cutting and austerity budgeting across state governments is instead deepening inequality.

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Pennsylvania Parents Want to Keep Fracking at a Distance

Posted at http://www.publicnewsservice.org/2014-10-21/energy-policy/pennsylvania-parents-want-to-keep-fracking-at-a-distance/a42326-1Fracking distance

October 21, 2014 – Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service (PA)

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BUTLER COUNTY, Pa. – As natural gas drilling pads, pipelines and compressor stations spring up around the state, groups of parents calling themselves Protect Our Children are hoping for at least a one-mile buffer between infrastructure and schools and playgrounds.

Penni Lechner, a mother in Summit Township, says her family has experienced a number of health problems since fracking arrived in the area, especially with nosebleeds, headaches and rashes. A well pad is located just 900 feet from the local school, and 500 feet from the playground.

“They put the drilling rig up, and then they fracked it,” she says. “There’s an impoundment pond back there that holds chemical water. There’s no fence; the kids can just walk right up there if they want to.”

A study conducted by Yale University and funded by the Heinz Endowments was released in September showing the closer people live to operating gas wells, the more likely they are to report health problems.

David Brown, a toxicologist with the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, says the Yale study identified more than a dozen health impacts in up to 40 percent of local residents who were interviewed.

“They ranged from rashes to difficulty breathing to heart problems to confusion,” he says. “a lot of cognitive effects; headaches, and an intense sense of fatigue.”

The study did not conclude definitively the health effects resulted from fracking, but the researchers have called for further investigation.

Another study from Penn State University funded by the gas industry showed fracking water stored underground does not contaminate drinking water.

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How Pennsylvania Can Save Money by Investing in Pre-K

From Pre-K for PA (http://www.prekforpa.org/):

Pennsylvania can save millions of dollars down the road by investing in high-quality pre-k, according to new research (http://www.prekforpa.org/strongerschools/) from the Economy League of Philadelphia and released by the Pre-K for PA Campaign.  Researchers analyzed dozens of pre-k programs across the country and found that children who attended high-quality pre-kindergarten programs were less likely to need special education services, less likely to repeat a grade and have fewer behavioral problems in school.  You only need to look across the Delaware River for an example of how pre-k is making a difference in the lives of children.  The report found that New Jersey’s public pre-k program decreased special education placement by 31%, reduced the likelihood of grade repetition by 40% and increased achievement in language arts, math and science through fifth grade.  Pennsylvania can reap these same great benefits by investing in pre-k. Currently, high-quality publicly funded pre-k is only available to one in six children, leaving about 125,000 three-and four-year-olds unable to access these valuable programs and start school ready to succeed.

Click here to read the report.

Want to help improve access to pre-k?  Go to http://www.prekforpa.org/get-involved/ to join the Pre-K for PA campaign.

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Small Scale Food Producers are the Solution to the Global Food Crisis

Posted at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2014/10/16/small-scale-food-producers-are-solution-global-food-crisis

Published on Thursday, October 16, 2014
By Common Dreams
By Kirtana ChandrasekaranMartin Drago

Small scale food

Adolfo, a small farmer from El Salvador, grows 60 crops and is the personification of the solution to world food hunger. (Photo: Jason Taylor / Friends of the Earth International)

ROME, Italy – Today, World Food Day, we are confronted with the failure of our global food system: 805 million people are going hungry while obesity affects over 2 billion of us.

The hungry are mostly the rural poor living in developing countries, predominantly peasants and other small-scale food producers, from Africa, Asia Nearly one of every nine people go to bed hungry every night, but not Adolfo and his family, despite the fact that he is from an area devastated by the effects of climate change and flooding, the Lempe Valley in El Salvador.

Adolfo knows from first hand experience that agricultural diversity and saving traditional seeds are essential to the livelihoods of small scale food producers, who, in turn, play a vital role in feeding local people.

Governments around the world have sidelined small-scale food producers for decades, pushing millions of them into hunger. Yet, even today, most of the world’s food is still grown by them, using traditional seed varieties and without the use of industrial inputs.

Peasants like Adolfo are the primary food producers feeding the world today. And we desperately need them, not more industrial farming, if we are to feed the planet in the context of climate change and widespread degradation of natural resources.

In Africa, peasants grow almost all locally consumed food. In Latin America, 60 per cent of farming, including meat, comes from small-scale family farms. In Asia, the global rice powerhouse, almost all rice is grown on farms of less than 2 hectares.

Yet industrial farming – based on monocultures, hybrid seeds, and chemical pesticides and fertilizers – is still promoted heavily by agribusinesses and some governments as the best way to provide food for the planet.

Yet, evidence shows that industrial farming is destroying the resources we rely on to produce our food. Desertification of soils, a diminishing genetic pool, and dead-sea zones from fertilizer runoff are just some of the effects of industrial farming. Climate change is another huge challenge that could bring down agricultural productivity significantly by 2050, especially in developing countries. Ironically, industrial farming is itself a major contributor to climate change because of its reliance on fossil fuels and fertilizers.

Despite this, backers of industrial agriculture point to our growing population and the need to produce more food as a justification for ignoring its real environmental consequences.

But we know that producing more food and increasing yields are not the sole challenges. In fact, we already produce enough food to feed our population today and in the future.

The problem is not lack of food, rather its unbalanced distribution. Access to food is dictated by wealth and profit rather than need, when “free trade” is promoted over the Right to Food.

As a result, half the world’s grain now feeds factory-farmed animals and a huge proportion of food crops are turned into agrofuels to fuel cars, taking food from the hungry and diverting it to wealthy consumers.

Our real hunger challenge today is to raise incomes and sustain the livelihoods of small-scale food producers, enabling them to feed themselves and local people sustainably. Facing this challenge, the ‘food sovereignty’ movement has emerged as an incredibly effective alternative to the industrial food system.

The movement for food sovereignty is backed by more than 300 million small- scale food producers as well as consumers, environmentalists and human rights Food sovereignty is fundamentally different from food security. A country focused on achieving food security does not distinguish where food comes from, or the conditions under which it is produced and distributed. National food security targets are often met by sourcing food produced under environmentally destructive and socially exploitative conditions that destroy local food producers but benefit agribusiness corporations.

On the other hand, food sovereignty promotes community control of resources and access to land for small-scale producers. It prioritizes peoples’ ownership of their food policies. Importantly, it demands the right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through agroecology – the application of ecological principles to farming.

In the past few years, new evidence from several United Nations agencies has recognized agroecology as the most effective way to tackle the multiple crises of hunger, environmental damage and poverty. A 2011 analysis of agro-ecology (pdf) found that it has the potential to double small farmers’ food production in 10 years.

Even a fraction of such a gain would go a very long way to substantially decrease world hunger.

The evidence is clear but changing the food system is difficult.

The power of seed and pesticide companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta, of gigantic supermarkets such as Wal-Mart, and of grain traders such as Cargill has grown so strong that they exert a massive influence over national food policies. This ensures that agribusinesses still receive billions of dollars in subsidies and policy support.

The solution to global hunger is within our grasp, but it requires a fundamental reform of the global food system: a wholesale shift from industrial farming to agroecology and food sovereignty.

It is Adolfo’s knowledge, and that of millions of peasants like him that we want to celebrate today with the motto of World Food Day 2014: ‘Family farming: feeding the world, caring for the Earth.’

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

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Ten Facts about Being Homeless in USA

Posted at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2014/10/14/ten-facts-about-being-homeless-usa

Published on Tuesday, October 14, 2014
By Common Dreams
By Bill Quigley

Homeless Man

On any given night, there are over 600,000 homeless people in the United States. (Photo: Garry Knight/cc/flickr)

Three True Stories

Renee Delisle was one of over 3500 homeless people in Santa Cruz when she found out she was pregnant.  The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported she was turned away from a shelter because they did not have space for her.  While other homeless people slept in cars or under culverts, Renee ended up living in an abandoned elevator shaft until her water broke.

Jerome Murdough, 56, a homeless former Marine, was arrested for trespass in New York because he was found sleeping in a public housing stairwell on a cold night.  The New York Times reported that one week later, Jerome died of hypothermia in a jail cell heated to over 100 degrees.

Paula Corb and her two daughters lost their home and have lived in their minivan for four years.  They did laundry in a church annex, went to the bathroom at gas stations, and did their studies under street lamps, according to America Tonight.

Fact One.  Over half a million people are homeless

On any given night, there are over 600,000 homeless people in the US according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  Most people are either spending the night in homeless shelters or in some sort of short term transitional housing.  Slightly more than a third are living in cars, under bridges or in some other way living unsheltered.

Fact Two.  One quarter of homeless people are children

HUD reports that on any given night over 138,000 of the homeless in the US are childrenunder the age of 18. Thousands of these homeless children are unaccompanied according to HUD.  Another federal program, No Child Left Behind, defines homeless children more broadly and includes not just those living in shelters or transitional housing but also those who are sharing the housing of other persons due to economic hardship, living in cars, parks, bus or train stations, or awaiting foster care placement.  Under this definition, the National Center for Homeless Education reported in September 2014 that local school districts reported there are over one million homeless children in public schools.

Fact Three.  Tens of thousands of veterans are homeless

Over 57,000 veterans are homeless each night.  Sixty percent of them were in shelters, the rest unsheltered.  Nearly 5000 are female.

Fact Four.  Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness in women

More than 90% of homeless women are victims of severe physical or sexual abuse and escaping that abuse is a leading cause of their homelessness.

Fact Five. Many people are homeless because they cannot afford rent

The lack of affordable housing is a primary cause of homelessness according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.  HUD has seen its budget slashed by over 50% in recent decades resulting in the loss of 10,000 units of subsidized low income housing each and every year.

Fact Six.  There are fewer places for poor people to rent than before

One eighth of the nation’s supply of low income housing has been permanently lost since 2001.  The US needs at least 7 million more affordable apartments for low income families and as a result millions of families spend more than half their monthly income on rent.

Fact Seven.  In the last few years millions have lost their homes

Over five million homes have been foreclosed on since 2008, one out of every ten homes with a mortgage.  This has caused even more people to search for affordable rental property.

Fact Eight.  The Government does not help as much as you think

There is enough public rental assistance to help about one out of every four extremely low income households.  Those who do not receive help are on multi-year waiting lists.  For example, Charlotte just opened up their applications for public housing assistance for the first time in 14 years and over 10,000 people applied.

Fact Nine.  One in five homeless people suffer from untreated severe mental illness

While about 6% of the general population suffers from severe mental illness, 20 to 25% of the homeless suffer from severe mental illness according to government studies.  Half of this population self-medicate and are at further risk of addiction and poor physical health.  A University of Pennsylvania study tracking nearly 5000 homeless people for two yearsdiscovered that investing in comprehensive health support and treatment of physical and mental illnesses is less costly than incarceration, shelter and hospital services for the untreated homeless.

Fact Ten.  Cities are increasingly making homelessness a crime

2014 survey of 187 cities by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty found: 24% make it a city-wide crime to beg in public; 33% make it illegal to stand around or loiter anyplace in the city; 18% make it a crime to sleep anywhere in public; 43% make it illegal to sleep in your car; and 53% make it illegal to sit or lay down in particular public places.   And the number of cities criminalizing homelessness is steadily increasing.

For more information look to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, theNational Center for Homeless Education and the National Coalition on the Homeless.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

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Ten Things You Need to Know About Sanctuary 2014—Fighting to Keep Families Together

From Groundswell (http://www.groundswell-mvmt.org/):

“I know that with God, nothing is impossible. That’s why I came to church.” That’s how Luis explains his decision to seek Sanctuary in a church in Arizona when faced with deportation.1

Immigration may have disappeared from the headlines, but every day 1000 families are still being torn apart by deportations.

So a group of churches, synagogues, and faith communities are taking emergency moral action for their neighbors like Luis.

But what is Sanctuary? We put together this post with the top 10 things you need to know.

Go to http://www.groundswell-mvmt.org/faithshare/sanctuary-101-how-churches-and-synagogues-are-stopping-deportations/ to read the 10 things you need to know about Sanctuary2014, the movement fighting to keep families together!

Sanctuary isn’t about Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals. It isn’t about any specific faith or way to pray. It’s about a shared moral vision of keep families together. It’s about compassion and justice.

Click, get inspired, share.

PS: You can stand in solidarity with the Sanctuary movement by adding your congregation to our map at http://sanctuary2014.org/join/?source=groundswellmap.

[1] Petition for Luis: Tell the Obama Administration: Stop Luis From Being Deported & Keep Your Promise

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Cesar Chavez: First-Friday Free Large Screen Film Series—November 7, Springfield

Peace Center of Delaware County
1001 Old Sproul Road, Springfield, PA 19064.

Friday, November 7, at 7 p.m.

Cesar Chavez

(2014, 102 mins., PG 13 for some language and violence. Directed by Diego Luna; stars Michael Pena, America Ferrera, Rosario Dawson, and John Malkovich)

Si Se Puede! (Yes, we can!) Viva La Huelga! (Viva Strike!)

These were rallying cries of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union and its supporters in the 1960s and 1970s. The UFW organized migrant farm workers from Mexico to gain better living and working conditions in the grape and lettuce fields of California. At risk to himself, Chavez faced the strong arm of the growers and the police, who were at the growers’ beck and call.

Cesar Chavez is the inspirational true story of the civil rights and union leader who rose from the fields to organize, along with Dolores Huerta, the UFW and thousands of unrepresented dirt-poor Latino and Filipino workers in an historic nonviolent struggle for dignity and justice that spread as supporters nationwide engaged in consumer boycott tactics.

Doors open at 6:30p.m. for light refreshments.

Short after-film discussion. For more information and directions, http://www.delcopeacecenter.org/ or call 610-544-1818.

Co-sponsored by the Brandywine Peace Community.

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