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Casey Schoeneberger
Casey Schoeneberger, Faith in Public Life’s Press Secretary, came to FPL from NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby’s Associate Program after studying economics at Saint Joseph’s University. She blogs about tax and budget issues on Bold Faith Type.

Bad News Ahead in the FY13 Federal Budget

January 20, 2012, 10:35 am | By Casey Schoeneberger

Constrained by the limits of the shameful 2011 debt-ceiling budget deal, the Obama Administration is warning progressive groups that they won’t appreciate the cuts facing human needs programs. Community health centers, childcare assistance and anti-hunger programs (to name a few) stand to be severely impacted by cuts in 2013. The potential consequences of these cuts cannot be underestimated and many difficult moral decisions lie ahead for policymakers.

It’s important to remember that we’re in this situation because Congressional Republicans threatened to crash the economy on purpose if the White House didn’t agree to draconian cuts. Nonetheless, leaders of both parties must be held accountable for their moral (or immoral) budget priorities.

As word spread about the draconian cuts facing cities and towns in 2013, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sounded off yesterday about Congress and its failed response to America’s budget crisis:

We’ll be monitoring budget proposals in the coming weeks to see which programs face the biggest brunt of cuts and sound the alarm if the budget fails to maintain critical protections for poor and vulnerable people.

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New Report Shows How Payday Lenders Profit From Poverty

January 19, 2012, 11:11 am | By Casey Schoeneberger

As if the working poor weren’t facing enough assaults on their livelihoods during this extended period of high unemployment, a new report from National People’s Action details the dangerous effects payday lending companies — which make high-risk, high-interest, short-term loans — have on low-income communities.

One of the report’s key findings:

Payday lenders take at the very least $3.4 billion from our communities every year in fees alone. This figure represents some $3.1 billion in wealth stripped from desperate borrowers -money that could have gone to buy needed groceries or school supplies- to pump up the payday lenders’ fat bottom lines.

While payday lenders prey on the most vulnerable and drive the poor into never ending cycles of indebtedness, the lending institutions reap huge profits by borrowing from big banks like Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, US Bank and Bank of America at extremely low interest rates, “which they in turn lend out as payday loans charging between 260% and 570% APR”.

As the “Profiting off Poverty” report details, these companies continue to make record-breaking profits by setting up in neighborhoods isolated from traditional banking options. With more payday lending locations than McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S., these companies gladly admit that they are often the only available line of credit for people in poverty:

Many Americans with access to mainstream banking services and credit cards may never step foot into a payday loan shop. However, an estimated 25.6% of all American households representing 39 million adults are either “unbanked” (7.7% of all households) or “underbanked” (17.9% of households). Also, significant racial and ethnic disparities exist in terms of access to mainstream financial services; 53% of African-Americans, 43% of Hispanics, and 44% of Native Americans are either unbanked or underbanked.

Lenders take advantage of the fact that their exorbitant compound interest rates quickly skyrocket into an almost inescapable debt if borrowers fall behind in payment at all. Unsuspecting individuals are left handing over their paychecks to lenders for astronomical interest payments instead of saving for a more secure future. As building savings is a crucial tool in the fight against poverty, payday lending institutions make that task virtually impossible.

To learn about how you and your congregation can fight these predatory lending practices, be sure and check out these great faith-based resources from the Center for Responsible Lending.

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Tennessee Interfaith Group Prays to Stop Mountaintop Removal

January 13, 2012, 1:51 pm | By Casey Schoeneberger

People of faith have been working for years to stop coal mining companies’ destructive practice of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia, which has caused environmental and public health disasters across the region.  As the Tennessee legislative session begins, congregations across the state have joined together for 40 days of prayer to alert their elected officials to their concerns and prevent the mining of peaks above 2,000 feet.

Despite the uphill battle that Tennessee residents face against these powerful corporate special interests, the activists and local residents were stunningly clear in their conviction that their faith calls them to restore the pristine condition of the water and air quality in the  region.

From Tennessean News Channel 5:

 

The way we love the creator of the universe is to love the creation,” said Pastor Ryan Bennett [who also] says the environment may not be the first thing you’d think [of] from a pew, but here it’s a grassroots issue firmly planted in faith. “It’s sort of like a David and Goliath sort of scenario. We’re volunteers. We don’t know what we’re doing, but we believe that God is with us.

Tennesseans are surely in a “David and Goliath” scenario with coal mining companies, but they have the support of a wide array of faith groups. At least six national Christian denominations have passed resolutions  condemning mountaintop removal mining and are united in their efforts to raise awarenessof these exploitative practices among their congregations.

With local residents and the environment left defenseless in the face of mining companies that have virtually unlimited rights and minimal supervision of their environmental practices, mining laws must be updated to protect more than just the interests of powerful mining companies. Thanks to these Tennesseans and groups around the country, residents will not be left to fight these devastating consequences alone.

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New Report Exposes The Scandal of Excessive Executive Bonuses

January 6, 2012, 12:01 pm | By Casey Schoeneberger

Thanks to the growing publicity of the abusive practices of big banks, people around the country are fighting back by moving their money to more responsible institutions and  calling  for greater protections against predatory banking and foreclosure practices. Detailing the disparities between the average American and big bank executives, The New Bottom Line, in partnership with The Public Accountability Initiative, released a report in December noting the outrageous bonuses and salaries at seven of the largest banks in America.

The report shows these executives earned a collective $156 billion in compensation in 2011, a projected increase of 3.7% over the previous year. To break that down, Brian Moynihan of Bank of America received $5,000 an hour, which could be considered “small” when compared to Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who earned an astonishing  $9,300 an hour.

While banks made massive layoffs this year, CEOs were rewarded with even larger paychecks and held unaccountable for behavior that destroyed the livelihoods of many Americans. Personal incentives are now lined up strictly with illegal profit-at-all-cost tactics like breaking loan modification agreements, robo-signing foreclosures, and hiding fees. This is the clearest symptom of the brokenness of an economic system that idolizes profiteering as a sign of achievement deserving extravagant reward. Any unsuspecting consumers who end up as the collateral damage in this process are secondary concerns, if at all.

While big bank CEO’s are earning thousands of dollars an hour, the federal minimum wage remains woefully inadequate at $7.25 an hour. Bank of America employees are not immune from these income disparities, with the average teller at the company requiring “11 weeks of work, to make what Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan made in one hour last year ($5,000).” The small dot seen at the center of this graphic below represents the hourly salary of the average American worker, in comparison to big bank CEO’s average hourly wage of approximately $8,000.

Source: The New Bottom Line

While these outrageous inequalities and corrupt business practices are an unfortunate reality, the Dodd Frank Wall Street regulation passed last year is taking positive, if limited, steps toward addressing them. Consumers received a boost this week with the  appointment of Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where he will implement consumer protections passed under the legislation. Thankfully, the act gives the bureau the authority to establish new rules for the structure of employee compensation. It remains to be seen though whether this framework can curtail the stunning abuses of power and inequality that have arisen from the financial sector.

But with continued pressure from alert consumers and greater oversight of the banking and financial industry, Americans are on the road to reclaiming the power that has been held by big banks for far too long.

 

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Reflections on the End of the Iraq War

December 27, 2011, 1:49 pm | By Casey Schoeneberger

Iraq Soldiers Returning HomeFor a war that spanned nine years and took thousands of American and Iraqi lives and billions of dollars, the events surrounding the end of the Iraq War this month were oddly restrained. As soldiers return from Iraq this holiday season, the official end of the war allows Americans to reflect on the lives lost, the challenges that remain in Iraq and the soldiers that are still fighting in Afghanistan and conflicts around the world.

Below is a media round-up exploring the reactions from people of faith and peace activists across the country:

San Diego resident Fernando Suarez Del Solar, father of a fallen marine, reflects on the homecoming of soldiers and his crusade to ensure that “no more children die…”

“On one hand, I’m happy that so many American military members will be home for Christmas. On the other, many will not be home, including my son,” said Fernando Suarez del Solar.

In March 2003, del Solar’s Marine son, Jesus, stepped on a U.S. cluster bomb and became one of the first casualties of the invasion of Iraq.”

Rev. Chuck Currie on the Christian churches’ response to the Iraq invasion:

The National Council of Churches and nearly every other Christian body in the United States and across the globe opposed the Bush’s administrations rush to war.  But Democratic presidential candidates gearing up for the 2004 and 2008 presidential races – including John Kerry, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton – backed President Bush and the result was nine years of war – nearly 5,000 Americans killed, many more wounded, and tens of thousands of Iraqis killed and wounded.

Tom Hayden at the Los Angeles Times gives thanks to those who opposed the Iraq War from its onset in 2003 and pushes activists to keep demanding an end to the war in Afghanistan:

Now the challenge will be to bring the war in Afghanistan and the drone strikes over the border in Pakistan to an end as quickly as possible. Obama may have convinced himself that these are not “dumb wars” carried out by mindless conservatives, but the PhDs at the Pentagon and the State Department cannot prevent a deepening calamity.

This year, Rep. Lee orchestrated a Democratic National Committee resolution calling for a more rapid Afghan withdrawal, but so far the president has committed only to handing over responsibility for security to Afghan forces by 2014. The peace movement should push for a faster pace.

John Dear, S.J at National Catholic Reporter asks us to reflect on what we can be done differently as America moves forward:

Christmastime invites us to reflect on our nation’s wars and our efforts, however modest, to stop them. We need to reflect upon our work for peace, specifically our work to end the long nightmare of our war in Iraq. What did we do? How can we empower others to speak up for peace? How could we have responded in a more loving, nonviolent spirit? What does the God of peace think about our efforts to make peace? What can we do now to oppose the ongoing U.S. war in Afghanistan and the ever-expanding U.S. war machine?

Mario T. Garcio at National Catholic Reporter believes the Iraq war should serve as a lesson to activists working against the backdrop of potential future conflicts:

Instead of trying to somehow justify the Iraq war, President Obama should have used the removal of the last of U.S. combat troops to reflect on the tragedy of the war and to vow that, at least under his watch, no such unnecessary interventions would take place. In the end, only the majority of us can assure preventing such future wars by our protests and struggles against imperial adventures.

Drew Christiansen, S. J., editor in chief of America, reflects on the responsibility academics, activists and faith leaders have to place judgment, not just critiques, on war:

“The Just War is too often used as an academic tool with no practical or pastoral force. In 1983, the U.S. Catholic bishops urged the public to “say ‘No’ to nuclear war.” In 2003, they warned President Bush that “resort to war would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for the use of military force.” Yet, once war came, they never condemned the war as unjust. As a political and pastoral tool, public use of the Just War tradition must move from analysis to judgment.”

And most importantly, a call from The Mercury News to not abandon our service men and women as they return home:

“It’s arguable that we failed the Iraqi people, but we must not fail our own. Men and women who fought for us deserve a bright future at home….

The United States’ volunteer army draws heavily on young people of low to middle income who want to serve their country and believe it will benefit them in the long run. So it should. The least we can do is guarantee that their wounds, physical and mental, will be treated and that America’s concern for their well-being does not end the moment they turn in their weapons.”

Peace activists, theologians and everyday American citizens must not become numb to the realities of war. Engaging with our fellow citizens and elected officials on how to prevent these conflicts going forward is the least we can give to the service men and women serving around the world, and returning home, this holiday season.

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