The Common Good

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So just who is middle class?

The Associated Press reports on Presidential candidates attempts to sway the middle classes, and the lack of clarity about just who the middle class actually are:

In a recent speech, President Barack Obama referred to the "middle class" 14 times, defining it as a family that makes up to $250,000 a year. Republican challenger Mitt Romney has looked at it from the other direction, saying that someone who falls into poverty "is still middle class."

In the fuzzy labels and loose speech of this political season, "middle class" has ballooned to cover just about everyone. So what does the term really mean?

There's no official definition.

If anything, a slew of economic data suggests a middle class that's actually shrinking. Mid-wage manufacturing and other jobs are disappearing due to automation and outsourcing, while lower-income positions and poverty spike higher. The White House's chief economist, Alan Krueger, said in January that the middle class fell from 50 percent of U.S. households in 1970 to 42 percent in 2010, as more families moved to the extreme ends of income distribution.

But it's not just about economic ranges. And politicians are not bound by such gauges anyway.

Learn more here

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Syria: "Spinning Out of Control"

As more details of this morning’s bombing in Damascus are known, the casualty list is growing.  Among those killed were  Syria’s Defense Minister, Deputy Defense Minister (who was President Bashir’s brother-in-law), and a senior general who was also a former Defense Minister. The head of the National Security Office and the Interior Minister were among those seriously wounded.

In an early afternoon story, the Associated Press quoted U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta saying that the crisis in Syria is "rapidly spinning out of control.” British Defense Minister Philip Hammond, who spoke at a press conference with Panetta, said the Assad government is suffering "probably some fragmentation around the edges" as it struggles to keep a grip on power. "There is a sense that the situation is deteriorating and is becoming more and more unpredictable," Hammond said.

A later AP report noted:

"Rebels claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they had been planning it for two months and finally decided to plant the bomb in the room where the top government security officials in charge of crushing the revolt were holding a crisis meeting."

Reuters reported this afternoon on the continuing violence:

"The government vowed to retaliate, and residents said army helicopters fired machine guns and in some cases rockets at several residential districts. Television footage showed rebels storming a security base in southern Damascus. By nightfall, activists said Syrian army artillery had begun shelling the capital from the mountains that overlook it."

As the violence escalates, let us pray for a peaceful resolution in Syria, especially for the civilians caught between the two forces.

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Making an AIDS-free world a reality

Salon reports on what could be a turning point in the fight against AIDS:

"Just one decade ago, experts from the CIA to the World Health Organization feared that AIDS would infect more than 100 million people, becoming a runaway epidemic and crippling countries. But the world, led by the United States, responded in a massive way and expanded treatment from tens of thousands to millions of people, leading to slight decreases in the past five years in the numbers of people living with HIV in countries from West to Southern Africa, where the epidemic has hit the hardest.

Is the world now at the next turning point in the history of AIDS? Is this a moment when AIDS, not countries, becomes crippled? Doubters are many. But many also believe new prevention tools and ramped up campaigns to protect newborns and women will help them finally outmaneuver a virus that has killed millions for decades."

Find out more here

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Parents vs. Climate Change?

For The Daily Beast, Mark Hertsgaard asks why parents aren't taking the potential effects of climate change on their children's lives more seriously:

"Beyond the distress and discomfort, the record-breaking heat raises a puzzling question for anyone who cares about the future of our young people. The laws of physics and chemistry—the fact that carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for decades after being emitted—mean that man-made global warming is just getting started on this planet.  As a result, my Chiara and millions of other youth around the world are now fated to spend the rest of their lives coping with the hottest, most volatile climate in our civilization’s 10,000-year history. Think of them as Generation Hot.

Why, then, are so few parents taking action to try to protect their beloved children from this gathering catastrophe? And why has no one asked them to?"

Learn more here

+Leave a Comment | Creation Care

The Consequences of Opting Out of Medicaid

Writing for The Nation, Bryce Covert examines how state-level opt outs of Medicaid expansions will affect women:

"The Medicaid expansion is a crucial component of the law’s overall goal of extending coverage to over 30 million uninsured Americans by 2019, covering almost half of the total number of people the bill promised to insure. Originally, the law included a provision that the federal government could take away all of a state’s Medicaid funding if it refused to go along with the expansion, which all but ensured participation. But the Court ruled that such a maneuver was unconstitutional. Just a few days after the decision was announced, seven Republican governors said they would flat-out reject the money to expand Medicaid rolls, with at least eight more looking to follow suit. More have said no since then.

This could create a no-man’s land for those who earn less than 100 percent of the federal poverty line, making them ineligible for tax subsidies to help them buy insurance, but don’t qualify for their state’s (unexpanded) Medicaid program. These Americans are surely struggling to get by, but not quite enough to get health coverage promised to those above and below them."

Read more here

+Leave a Comment | Economic Justice

DRONE WATCH: U.S. Pakistan Talk Drones

Talks between the U.S. and Pakistan on drone attacks will resume this month, including a visit by the head of Pakistan’s intelligence agency to Washington. The U.S. continues to see the strikes as essential to its counter-terrorism efforts, and Pakistan continues to see them as a violation of its sovereignty. Associated Press reports:

"They start at an impasse, with the U.S. already determined to reject Pakistan's demands to end CIA drone strikes. Pakistani officials will also be pushing a plan to replace the CIA drone campaign with Pakistani F-16 strikes, and eventually its own armed drone fleet — a proposal that U.S. officials say they have rejected many times before. The divergent views reflect the deterioration in U.S.-Pakistani ties over the last 18 months, and the hardening of positions on both sides."

The Pakistani newspaper DAWN adds this from a “senior Pakistani security official” via Agence France-Presse: “This visit comes against the backdrop of extensive consultations between civilian and military leadership and the general has been authorised to take a firm stand on drones issue during his talks,”

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Millennials: A Generation Left Behind?

 

Writing for Newsweek MagazineJoel Kotkin wonders if the Millennial generation will be remembered as the "screwed generation:"

"Today’s youth, both here and abroad, have been screwed by their parents’ fiscal profligacy and economic mismanagement. Neil Howe, a leading generational theorist, cites the “greed, shortsightedness, and blind partisanship” of the boomers, of whom he is one, for having “brought the global economy to its knees.”

How has this generation been screwed? Let’s count the ways, starting with the economy. No generation has suffered more from the Great Recession than the young. Median net worth of people under 35, according to the U.S. Census, fell 37 percent between 2005 and 2010; those over 65 took only a 13 percent hit.

The wealth gap today between younger and older Americans now stands as the widest on record. The median net worth of households headed by someone 65 or older is $170,494, 42 percent higher than in 1984, while the median net worth for younger-age households is $3,662, down 68 percent from a quarter century ago, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center."

Read more here

+Leave a Comment | Economic Justice

Faith in the Heavens, and Beyond

A fascinating piece from The Atlantic looks at faith and spirituality amongst those who have travelled across our universe:

"For many people, space represents its own religion, a spiritual experience on its own, secular terms, with no help from the divine or ancient rituals. But for those who believe and travel into space, the experience can endow their faith with greater significance. There is awe in science because, simply, there is awe in reality. We use science to discover that reality, and some use religion to understand it, to feel it deeply."

Read the full article here

+Leave a Comment | Faith & Politics

Race and Religion Remain Key Issues in Presidential Campaign

The Christian Post reports: 

"A new ABC/Washington Post poll released Monday highlights the differences between Americans who believe racial and religious discriminations are non-issues today versus those who feel racism is a factor in selecting our elected leaders. The poll is timely given that its findings apply to both presidential candidates: incumbent Barack Obama, the first African-American U.S. president, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who if elected would be the first Mormon U.S. president.

According to the poll, 62 percent of non-blacks do not see racial discrimination as a predominant issue in their communities. Among this group, 59 percent favor Romney while 34 percent back Obama.

In March, 42 percent of Americans surveyed said candidates' religious beliefs were important compared to 38 percent in the most recent poll. Political analysts view this as a sign that more Americans are becoming comfortable with Romney's religious beliefs as they learn more about him. Sixty-three percent say a candidate's religion does not matter significantly."
 
Read more here

 

+Leave a Comment | Faith & Politics

Colombian Indigenous Peacemakers Put the "Active" in "Activist"

In an Indigenous region of Colombia's Cauca province, activists armed with ceremonial wooden staffs, moral authority, and *lot* of moxie are telling both government armed forces and guerrillas to get out of their territory. In the face of an upsurge in guerrilla-vs.-state violence, Colombian President Manuel Santos made a saber-rattling visit to the town of Toribío to hold an emergency cabinet meeting there, but indigenous activists from the Nasa ethnic group--all too aware that government troops' presence in civilian areas can paint a target on them--were not impressed with Santos' offer of more of the same.

“The military can’t protect us and the guerrillas don’t represent us,” [Indigenous Guard leader] Mensa said, as he cradled the tasseled staff that identifies the volunteer guard. “All of them need to leave this area and let us live in peace.”...

"Even before Santos had finished the emergency meeting, the community had decided to take matters into its own hands. One group confronted the FARC at the roadblocks and another walked more than two hours to a barren mountaintop army battalion that overlooks Toribío.

"After a short standoff with troops, about 200 people swarmed the base and began toppling sandbagged bunkers and filling in foxholes."...

"At the FARC roadblocks, villagers shouted the guerrillas back into the jungle and seized five homemade mortars, called tatucos..."

Read more from the Miami Herald

When I visited Colombia last summer, I interviewed two members of the Indigenous Guard for an article for Sojourners magazine, and was deeply inspired by their commitment, strategy, and guts.

+Leave a Comment | Peace & Nonviolence