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A State of the Union victory on holding banks accountable

January 26, 2012, 8:00 am | By Kristin Ford

Progressive organizations, including the New Bottom Line coalition, organized a massive coordinated “bank transfer day” last year where hundreds of thousands of Americans pulled their money out of the big banks.  These financial institutions, like Wells Fargo and Bank of America, were targeted because of their predatory practices targeting low-income Americans, their record of illegally foreclosing on families, and out of general concern for their huge profits and influence over our political and financial systems.

During last week’s Bank of America earnings call, CEO Brian Moynihan revealed that account closures at Bank of America jumped 20 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, likely due to their controversial $5 monthly fee and continued momentum from the Move Your Money efforts.

Many of the same groups behind Move Your Money have been pressuring the White House not to reach a financial settlement with the big banks caught systematically breaking the law during the foreclosure scandal.

On Tuesday, in the President’s State of the Union, these groups achieved a big win: a commitment from the President not to let the banks off the hook with a quiet and relatively small-scale settlement.  Today PICO National Network, a faith-based member of the New Bottom Line coalition, released a statement applauding the President’s move to launch a federal investigation into unscrupulous housing and lending practices.  It reads, in part:

This is the first step towards reaching the broader goal of $300 billion in principal reduction and an additional $50 billion in restitution for those who have lost their homes, especially targeted to the hardest-hit communities.  We also need the President to act immediately to make sure that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac stop standing in the way of reducing underwater mortgage debt.  Only with these pieces in place will we begin to see the housing market, our economy, and our communities make a lasting recovery.

The New Bottom Line is sending a message  to the President thanking him and urging him to make sure the investigation has real teeth.  You can send your own message here.

H/T Think Progress

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A prayer breakfast speaker with an Islamophobic track record

January 24, 2012, 2:25 pm | By Kristin Ford

Controversial retired general and outspoken anti-Muslim evangelical Jerry Boykin has been invited to speak at the Ocean City, Maryland, mayor’s prayer breakfast.  Boykin is infamous for calling for there to be no more mosques in America, smearing Islam as a totalitarian threat to the United States, and claiming that Islam is not protected under the First Amendment. Right Wing Watch has a litany of Boykin’s most extreme comments here.

People for the American Way is asking its members to write to Ocean City officials urging them to withdraw the invitation and find a different speaker:

I’m writing to express my concern over Jerry Boykin’s participation in the Ocean City Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast on Thursday. Boykin’s well-documented history of bigotry should make him ineligible for such a distinction, and his participation would send the wrong message about what Ocean City stands for.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Auburn Theological Seminary have also joined the call for Ocean City to chose a different speaker who better represents American values.

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Common ground on abortion: effective and principled approaches

January 23, 2012, 3:18 pm | By Kristin Ford

Abortion restrictions chart via Think ProgressWith yesterday’s anniversary of Roe v. Wade and today’s massive March for Life here in DC, the often heated conversation around abortion id back in the headlines.  In the midst of these debates, it’s always refreshing to find people of faith and goodwill (both those who oppose and those who support legal access to abortion) who want to work together to reduce unintended pregnancies and support women and families.

Sometimes, anti-abortion advocates inaccurately criticize such common ground efforts as ineffectual or unprincipled.  Those who want to reduce abortions, they argue, should simply support laws that restrict access to the procedure, whether by shrinking the legal time-frame, adding waiting periods, or enacting regulatory laws designed to burden clinics into closing among other strategies.

But a new Guttmacher Institute report finds that globally, these kinds of highly restrictive laws are not actually associated with lower abortion rates. While this study compares national level legislation in different countries, these findings suggest that the restrictive abortion laws many states have passed in the last few years may not actually accomplish their ostensible goal of driving down the number of abortions.

Bryan Cones at U.S. Catholic has another thoughtful takeway from the study:

If being pro-life means being pro-women and pro-children already born in addition to being pro-unborn life, then perhaps it is time to focus equally on giving women power to decide when to get pregnant in the first place. Catholic teaching may be opposed to most forms of modern contraception, but in this case, perhaps it is better to choose the lesser of two evils–or at least this evidence seems to point in that direction.

The report also notes that, “Where abortion is legal on broad grounds, it is generally safe, and where it is illegal in most circumstances, it is generally unsafe.” For some, even those who are morally opposed to abortion, concerns abut safety and women’s health justifiably end up playing an important role in their opinions highly restrictive abortion laws.

Recently, the abortion debate has taken a turn for the extreme, with state legislatures across the country passing more and more restrictive abortion measures, the issue playing a role in dirty political tricks in South Carolina’s GOP primary, and Personhood USA (a far-right anti-abortion organization) attracting every leading GOP candidate except Romney to a forum in Greenville, S.C. earlier last week.

It’s time to inject some reasonable rhetoric back into our political conversation and figure out ways of lowering abortion rates in this country that reflect the values and concerns of those on both sides of the issue.

H/T and image via Think Progress

UPDATE: Chart from the Guttmacher Institute report via Mother Jones:

 

 

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Religious Right “Tent Revival” Promotes GOP Candidates

January 18, 2012, 5:13 pm | By Kristin Ford

Religious Right darling and disgraced former lobbyist Ralph Reed is back on the scene in the 2012 election cycle as head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

This past weekend, Reed organized an event across from the South Carolina debate site, featuring conservative religious voters, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and a number of the GOP contenders.  Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jim Galloway described the event as a “tent revival” with some questionable political and theological references:

Prosperity gospel was in vogue. With a few loud – perhaps accidental — bars of “Money, Money, Money,” the revival opened with a video address from Donald Trump, who declared that the world “is laughing at the stupidity of our leaders. They’re absolutely taking us to the cleaners.”

Reed’s Religious Right confab back inJune attracted few participants but a number of political heavyweights, like Representative Paul Ryan and presidential candidates Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.  At that event, there was an obvious schism  between the Tea Party, small-government side of the conservative movement and the Christian Right, social-issues contingent.

This division within the GOP ranks is continuing to crop up and it seems like Reed unsuccessfully hoped to alleviate the tension between the two camps at his South Carolina event. Galloway writes:

The Faith and Freedom Coalition is an attempt to unite evangelicals with tea partyists, but religiosity had the upper hand on Monday afternoon. When Reed asked tea party adherents to raise their hands, only a quarter of the audience did so.

Particularly with Religious Right leaders deciding at a meeting last weekend to back Santorum over Romney and facing  unanswered questions about their ability to actually influence the nomination or derail Romney’s momentum, Reed’s ability to deliver millions of evangelical votes for the GOP candidate is still unclear.  Given that the reports out of the meeting varied widely (some participants, like Family Research Council head Tony Perkins, said the decision hinged on “Obamacare” but Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention claimed social issues were paramount to the group’s decision), the Tea Party- Religious Right schism looks far from resolved.

photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

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Immigration as job creation

January 13, 2012, 8:25 am | By Kristin Ford

The American Enterprise Institute, a prominent conservative think tank, released a study in December that’s directly at odds with the misleading rhetoric most conservative politicians deploy in service of their anti-immigrant agenda.  The right-wing criticism of immigration, which in times of economic anxiety increasingly infiltrates the popular imagination, says that immigrants are “stealing American jobs.”  But the new AEI study definitively debunks this talking point:

The analysis yields no evidence that foreignborn workers, taken in the aggregate, hurt US employment. Even under the current immigration pattern—which is not designed to maximize job creation, has at least eight million unauthorized workers, and prioritizes family reunification—there is no statistically significant effect, either positive or negative, on the employment rate among US natives. The results thus do not indicate that immigration leads to fewer jobs for US natives.

The study looks at both high- and low-skilled workers and finds the results of immigration positive or neutral on native-born Americans’ employment..  The study also recommends immigration policy as a potential mechanism for spurring economic growth, an argument progressives have been making for a while and one I’m glad to hear from across the aisle as well.  The AEI piece concludes:

Action is required if America is to get back to work. Immigration policy can, and should, be a significant component of America’s economic recovery. Targeted changes to immigration policy geared toward admitting more highly educated immigrants and more temporary workers for specific sectors of the economy would help generate the growth, economic opportunity, and new jobs that America needs.

Meanwhile, Think Progress and the Wall Street Journal note that Americans drastically overestimate the number of undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S., by a factor of 6 or 7.  As the lede to the Wall Street Journal article states:

Many Americans have strong opinions about policy issues shaping the presidential campaign, from immigration to Social Security. But their grasp of numbers that underlie those issues can be tenuous.

It’s an alarming state of affairs when Americans have such inaccurate perceptions and understandings of the immigration debate and status quo.  Politicians will only exert the political courage necessary to tackle the challenge of fixing our broken immigration system if the American people demand it and have the facts about who’s in our country and the ways in which they contribute to our economy and society.

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