The Common Good

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Religion Will Play Key Role in Presidential Election

Stephen Mansfield writes for The Huffington Post:

"There are other matters that may drive religion to the forefront of the 2012 presidential election. We cannot be certain of all of them now. What Americans ought to know by this time in their history, though, is that religion is seldom far from their politics, seldom much removed from American culture as a whole. The 2012 campaign is likely to illustrate this as much as any presidential election in the nation's history."

Read the author's full list of the key religious issues in the election here

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DRONE WATCH: NGO Appeals For Drone Stop

The Pakistani newspaper DAWN reported this morning that the National Research and Development Foundation (NRDF), a national NGO, has appealed to the U.S. to stop drone attacks. NRDF has been promoting polio vaccinations in the tribal area where the strikes occur. The appeal follows a Taliban decision to ban the vaccinations due to fear of their possible relation to CIA intelligence gathering for targeting drones.

Tehseenullah Khan, NRDF coordinator, told DAWN that “The ban will adversely affect 318,000 children in the two agencies.”  He continued, “Stoppage of drone strikes by the US could safeguard children against host of diseases. Fata [the Federally Administered Tribal Areas] is the only active hub of active polio virus transmission in the country that has contributed more than 50 per cent of the total polio cases this year.”

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Huge Cuts in Welfare on the Table in Pennsylvania

The American Prospect reports:

"Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett's first stab at a budget for this year left the education community shaking. The Republican had balanced the budget in part through deep cuts not only to the state's colleges and universities but also to school districts. That's terrifying news for a state where some districts are already considering ending kindergarten to balance budgets. 

Miraculously, thanks to unexpectedly high tax collections, the state's schools have been spared the chopping block. But Corbett's other proposal, major funding cuts for human services, still looks alive and kicking."
Learn more here


+Leave a Comment | Economic Justice

Climate Change v. Poverty: A False Dichotomy?

In the final part of its series on evangelicals and climate change, The Christian Post's Napp Nazworth writes:

"Global warming skeptics argue that while global warming activists say that reducing carbon dioxide emissions is necessary to protect the poor and vulnerable, the science is so iffy and the cost of control so high that money would be better spent on direct aid to the poor."

Read more here
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DRONE WATCH: Drone Strike Kills Taliban Militants

Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press are reporting that a U.S. drone fired two missiles at a house in northwest Pakistan late on Tuesday, killing at least four (AP) or five (AFP) Taliban militants.  All those killed were associated with local Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a security official told AFP. A week ago, the New York Times noted Bahadur as one of those who had banned a polio vaccination campaign, citing his “fears that the C.I.A. could use the polio campaign as cover for espionage.”

One wonders if today’s strike is proof of his fears?

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DRONE WATCH: Taliban Ban Polio Vaccinations Over Drones

According to Guardian, a third Taliban leader has banned polio vaccinations in the area he controls, citing fears that health workers are gathering intelligence for use in targeting drone strikes. From the report:

"Leaflets distributed in South Waziristan on behalf of Mullah Nazir, the leader of the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (Fata) accused health workers who administer anti-polio drops of being US spies. "In the garb of these vaccination campaigns, the US and its allies are running their spying networks in Fata which has brought death and destruction on them in the form of drone strikes," the leaflet said."

It would seem that the concerns may have some merit. Shakil Afridi, a doctor who ran a hepatitis vaccination campaign, used it as cover to provide the CIA with intelligence that assisted in locating Osama bin Laden. Is that mixing of health care with intelligence gathering continuing?

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DRONE WATCH: For Many Pakistanis, 'USA' Means 'Drones'

In 2010, Shahzad Akbar, an attorney and founder of the Pakistani Foundation for Fundamental Rights, began filing lawsuits in Pakistan on behalf of drone strike victims. His work, according to MSNBC:

“has raised awareness of the strikes among the general Pakistani population – at the same time anti-American sentiment from a failing alliance with the U.S. is on the rise. He said his mission is to seek justice on behalf of innocent civilians killed in the drone attacks.”

When he began, little was known in Pakistan about the strikes, most of which take place in the remote, western tribal area. But now:

“Today, drones have become a political touchstone, regularly decried as part of politician's campaign speeches, prominently featured in fiery protest rallies, and sitting squarely at the center of a diplomatic war of words between the U.S. and Pakistan. … Though public perception may help him to gain traction, Akbar said his cases are based on the evidence he's gathering from strike locations in coordination with communities in North Waziristan, the tribal agency in which the overwhelming majority of strikes have occurred.”

What drives him to do this work?

"I believe in very simple principles that were taught to us by the West," said Akbar. "That everyone is presumed innocent unless proven guilty. So anyone who is killed in drone strikes, unless and until his guilt is established in some independent forum – that person is innocent."

+Leave a Comment | Peace & Nonviolence

Tensions Between Turkey and Syria Grow

The Economist reports on the growing tensions in the Middle East following the shooting down of a Turkish plane by Syrian forces:

"Turkey, a NATO member, was set to hold emergency talks at the alliance’sheadquarters in Brussels on Tuesday. Hillary Clinton, America’s Secretary of State, confirmed that the matter would be also brought before the United Nations Security Council. Meanwhile the European Union has agreed on new sanctions against Syria. These include banning insurance and re-insurance of arms shipments to Syria. Yet, in a further sign of western reluctance to intervene militarily Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, stated “We will obviously be looking to Turkey to be restrained in its response.”

"The most Turkey can hope for is verbal condmenations," said a western diplomat in Ankara. Turkish officials insist that Turkey must respond forcefully otherwise its claims at regional leadership will be badly dented as will Mr Erdogan's image at home.

The Turkish media has speculated about an array of options including targeted airstrikes against Syrian military installations and the establishment of a buffer zone along Turkey's 900 kilometre wide border with Syria. But many observers say it is unlikely that Turkey will risk war with Syria."

Read more here

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Following SCOTUS Decision, Where Are We On Immigration Reform?

For CNN, Allison Brennan writes:

"After two years of protests, boycotts and lawsuits over Arizona's immigration law, Monday's Supreme Court decision leaves the state of immigration reform almost unchanged with states frustrated and Congress avoiding the debate. "I would guess [Congress] won't touch this with a 10-foot pole until after they come back after the election," Charles H. Kuck, managing partner at Kuck Immigration Partners in Atlanta, told CNN."

Read her full analysis here

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DRONE WATCH: Congress Keeps Closer Watch on CIA Drone Strikes

In what appears to be a step in the right direction, Congress is paying more attention to drone strikes. From the LA Times:

"Once a month, a group of staff members from the House and Senate intelligence committees drives across the Potomac River to CIA headquarters in Virginia, assembles in a secure room and begins the grim task of watching videos of the latest drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. …

The regular review of some of the most closely held video in the CIA's possession is part of a marked increase in congressional attention paid to the agency's targeted killing program over the last three years. The oversight, which has not previously been detailed, began largely at the instigation of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, ...

In addition to watching video, the legislative aides review intelligence that was used to justify each drone strike. They also sometimes examine telephone intercepts and after-the-fact evidence, such as the CIA's assessment of who was hit."

One of the major criticisms of drone attacks is the lack of transparency and accountability. So, on the one hand, more Congressional oversight is good. On the other hand:

"Members of the oversight committees are limited in their ability to challenge the CIA's conclusions, a senior staff member cautioned. "I can watch video all day long — I'm not an imagery analyst," he said. "I can only look to see if the description reasonably concurs with what my untrained eyes are seeing."

+Leave a Comment | Peace & Nonviolence