The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

When It Comes to Welfare Reform, Britain is Not So Great

Gandhi once said that "a nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable." Today, it strikes me that the "Great" in Great Britain should probably be quietly dropped, and replaced with "Abject," "Inadequate" or something equally disparaging.

For that is how the UK is currently treating its most vulnerable — the young, the elderly, the disabled — inadequately, abjectly and without compassion. For the last few weeks, a battle has been raging between the government, the legislature, the Church, organizations, and the general public over a piece of legislation called the Welfare Reform Bill.

The bill is wide ranging in its ‘reforms’, covering a myriad of social security measures – from disability benefits, to welfare offered to the unemployed and their families and children. At a time when austerity and budget cutting is front and center of the government’s agenda, ‘reform’ is a by-word for ‘cutbacks’.

The crux of the legislation is an attempt to distinguish between different categories of "the poor," to weed out the “undeserving” from the “deserving.” Sadly, as can be seen from the uproar that the Bill has caused, this attempt has failed.

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Afternoon News Bytes: Feb. 2, 2012

Obama: Jesus Would Tax The Rich; Pockets Of Prosperity Across USA Escaped Recession; Obama Won't Touch Climate With A Ten-Foot Pole; U.S. Press Freedom Fell 27 Places Last Year To 47th In The World; Gingrich Slams Romney: The Founding Fathers Believed In Equal Opportunity For The Poor; Why Both Parties Are Flying the Anti-Wall Street Banner; Occupy Your Voice; Can Science End War?; Alabama's Immigration Law To Cost State Millions In Lost Taxes, Study Says.

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The People's Prayer Breakfast: “I woke up this morning with my mind set on justice...”

“I woke up this morning with my mind set on justice...”

So sang Sweet Honey In the Rock’s Dr. Ysaye Barnwell this morning. And, sitting in a room with hundreds of activists, occupiers and people of similar persuasions, it was hard not to embrace that mindset.

Maybe it’s a failing of my own, and a comment on my devotion to the 24-hour news cycle, but recently I have lost sight of the excitement and intent that the Occupy movement originally injected into the psyche of the nation.

Blessedly, this morning’s gathering, in the welcoming environment of Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, D.C., was an opportunity to hear once again words of hope, energy and defiance. The People’s Prayer Breakfast was everything I hoped and expected it to be.

It was friendly, optimistic and (as there should be at any good breakfast meeting), there was food aplenty for everyone in the bustling hall beneath the church — a mishmash of young, old, people of different faith traditions and various cultures. A large contingent of students from a local Quaker school injected a youthful optimism into the morning (filling the energy gap that even a strong coffee could not supply at 7:30 a.m.)

The atmosphere was one of peace and contentment. And yet, at the same time, there was urgency in the voices of those who addressed us.

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When Actions Speak Louder than Words: Bill and Melinda Gates

"‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.'"
~ Matthew 5:21 (NRSV)

Because it's never too late to say thank you, I didn't want to let the best news I heard out of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last week go unnoticed or unacknowleged.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, announced during the forum that they would inject an additional $750 million into the United Nation's Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a public-private organization founded a decade ago to combat three of the world's most devastating diseases that have claimed millions of lives, particularly among the poorest of the poor in the developing world.

The Gates' new gift joins more than $650 million the couple already has given to the Global Fund since its inception. And their latest gesture of epic generosity couldn't come at a more opportune time, especially after news (a few days before the Gates' announcement at Davos) that the fund's executive director, Michel Kazatchkine, was stepping down from his post early, amidst allegations of misuse of funds and cutbacks in funding.

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New Poll: Mainline Protestants Up for Grabs Heading into November

They may not be as large as Catholics or as active as evangelicals, but white mainline Protestants have a big thing going for them this election cycle: they are divided, and possibly persuadable.

That's according to a new poll released today (2/2/12), which found white mainline Protestants are more evenly split between President Obama and his Republican challengers than other religious groups.

"They're the most important ignored religious group in the country," said Dan Cox, research director at the Public Religion Research Institute, which conducted the poll in partnership with Religion News Service.

In a matchup between Obama and GOP front-runner Mitt Romney, mainline Protestant voters are nearly evenly divided, with 41 percent supporting Obama and 43 percent for Romney. The same holds true between Obama and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — each is the choice of 41 percent of white mainline Protestants.

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Speaking the Truth in Love: Katharine Hayhoe on Climate Change

There are a lot of heinously unmerited personal attacks going on in these United States right now, but for some reason I’m most bothered by the ones against Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and evangelical Christian. As this current Sojourners action alert describes, she’s been targeted by Rush Limbaugh, among others, for her efforts to speak the truth about global warming.

Partly, these attacks get under my skin because I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for evangelical scientists. My dad is one, and my Intervarsity-linked Bible study in grad school was so full of them that, as often the lone humanities student, I jokingly made up a scientific discipline to fit in (“I’m in immunostatistics — I model atypical populations.”)

But mostly, the attacks on Hayhoe sadden me because she’s so genuine and earnest in her desire not just to convey the evidence for climate change, but also to engage in respectful dialogue.

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The Top 10 Stories of February 2, 2012

Quote of the day.
"They don’t pay anything, because these are old folks whose income are very limited now. Not every Muslim likes us, because not every Muslim believes that Muslims and Jews should be like this." - Sheikh Moussa Drammeh, on why members of a small ultra-Orthodox congregation forced out of their storefront synagogue now worship in the Islamic Cultural Center of North America, home to the mosque he leads.
(The Tablet)

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Christians Join Fight Against Cockfighting

Christian leaders are teaming with animal rights advocates to fight against cockfighting, calling the practice of watching and betting on roosters who fight to the death antithetical to biblical values.

"Christians should stand up and speak out against this barbaric practice, which horrendously abuses God's creatures," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
   
Concern about cockfighting is focused on the state of South Carolina, where critics of the practice are trying to strengthen state laws against it. Though cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states, it remains a misdemeanor in 11 of them, including South Carolina.

 

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FULL TEXT: Obama's National Prayer Breakfast Speech

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT THE NATIONAL PRAYER BREAKFAST, Washington Hilton, Washington, D.C. 9:10 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Please, please, everybody have a seat.  Well, good morning, everybody.  It is good to be with so many friends united in prayer.  And I begin by giving all praise and honor to God for bringing us together here today.

I want to thank our co-chairs Mark and Jeff; to my dear friend, the guy who always has my back, Vice President Biden.  (Applause.)  All the members of Congress –- Joe deserves a hand –- all the members of Congress and my Cabinet who are here today; all the distinguished guests who’ve traveled a long way to be part of this.  I’m not going to be as funny as Eric -- (laughter) -- but I’m grateful that he shared his message with us.  Michelle and I feel truly blessed to be here.

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Middle East Christians Keep Wary Eye on Arab Spring

CAIRO, Egypt — From her home, Samia Ramsis holds a key chain bearing the face of the Virgin Mary as visitors outside come to look upon the spot where Egypt's Coptic Christians believe Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus found refuge after fleeing Bethlehem.
   
Once crowded with Christians, Cairo's Coptic quarter where she lives with her husband, Mounir, and two children is now home to fewer than 50 Christian families.
   
"We know many Christians have left," said Mounir Ramsis, speaking not only about this quarter but about all of Egypt. "But we love this country and will stay until death."
   
The Arab Spring uprisings that toppled secular dictatorships have unleashed long-suppressed freedoms that have allowed Islamic parties to gain a share of political power they have been denied for decades. Their rise is creating near-panic among ancient Christian communities that dot the Muslim world and predate Islam by centuries.

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