Duane Shank was Associate Editor for Sojourners magazine and was on the staff from 1995 to 2014. 

Duane has been active as an organizer and administrator in the peace and justice movement for 35 years, beginning as a draft resistance and antiwar organizer during the Vietnam war. He has worked as a community organizer in the rural south, in interfaith coalitions, and in the nuclear weapons freeze and Central America solidarity movements of the 1980s. His positions have included Associate for the National Inter-religious Service Board for Conscientious Objectors; National Coordinator for the Committee Against Registration and the Draft; Deputy Director and Acting Executive Director for SANE/Freeze; and Research Fellow for the Institute for Policy Studies.

Duane attended Eastern Mennonite University. He is a Anabaptist/Mennonite, and currently an active member and serves on the worship leadership team of the Community of Christ ecumenical congregation in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of Washington, D.C. His views on faith and politics have been shaped by (among others), John Howard Yoder, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Oscar Romero.

Duane is married to Ellen Kennel. They have a daughter, Celeste, a graduate of Goshen College, IN, the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago Divinity School.

In addition to family, church, and work; his passions are baseball (Washington Nationals), blues (Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan) and bluegrass music (Ralph Stanley), and barbecue.


Posts By This Author

Lament and Hope

by Duane Shank 07-10-2015
'The Gospel According to the Blues,' by Gary W. Burnett. Cascade Books.

AN OLD Buddy Guy song is titled “First Time I Met the Blues.” I don’t remember the first time I met the blues, but I do remember that I was captivated by the music. For many years now, two of my passions have been listening to blues and studying the Bible. Gary W. Burnett, a lecturer in New Testament at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and an amateur blues guitarist, shares those passions. This book, he writes in the introduction, is his attempt “to combine in some ways these two passions and to be able to reflect on Christian theology through the lens of the blues.” He succeeds with a well-crafted synthesis of U.S. history, African-American history, the blues, and New Testament scholarship.

Blues music is one of the great contributions of African-American culture to the U.S. While rooted in the oppression of slavery and post-slavery Jim Crow, it speaks meaningfully to the experience of all people. It’s a music that grabs your soul and won’t let go. And Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is central to his message of life in the coming and present kingdom of God. It can also grab your soul and not let go. By juxtaposing blues lyrics with passages from the Sermon, Burnett shows the common themes that emerge.

Tell Me A Story

by Duane Shank 01-06-2015
"Short Stories by Jesus," HarperOne

PREACHERS, politicians, and other public speakers know that a story is often the best way to get a point across to their listeners. In his itinerant ministry, Jesus was no exception. Some of his most important teaching was contained in stories—parables. Yet often we do not take them seriously enough to seek what he was really saying. Two thousand years of Christian theology has also obscured his original intent, often by considering them to be allegories rather than stories.

In that process, anti-Jewish stereotypes and prejudices have too often come to dominate the interpretation of the parables. Any villain is seen as representing Judaism, while the hero or victim represents the church—and, of course, in this framing God is on the side of the church. This often-unconscious bias affects how we read and understand the story and obscures Jesus’ message.

Professor Amy-Jill Levine, in Short Stories by Jesus, aims to correct that. As a Jewish New Testament scholar teaching at a Christian divinity school, she is uniquely situated to place Jesus and his teaching in their historical and cultural context. Jesus was a first-century Jew speaking to other first-century Jews. If we do not understand that starting point, we cannot understand Jesus or his stories. In an introduction not to be skipped, she points out that the parables often echo themes that appear elsewhere in Jesus’ teachings: economics, relationships, and, most important, prioritizing life in expectation of the coming kingdom of God. To make his point, he uses common, everyday examples of real-life characters and situations his audience would recognize.

No Short or Easy Struggle

by Duane Shank 07-09-2014
Fifty years later, does the political will exist to win the "War on Poverty"?

FIFTY YEARS AGO, on Aug. 20, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act into law. It had already been a momentous year. The Civil Rights Act was signed in early July, ending legal segregation. Mississippi Freedom Summer was underway, with hundreds of volunteers joining in voter registration campaigns. The effort to overcome poverty was the next step toward economic empowerment.

The Act created 11 different programs, including the Job Corps, Neighborhood Youth Corps, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), and both rural and urban Community Action Programs. Collectively referred to as the “War on Poverty,” the programs were coordinated by the Office of Economic Opportunity. In 1965, Medicaid and Medicare were created to provide health insurance for people in poverty and the elderly, and Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provided funding to school districts with students in poverty. It was the most comprehensive package of social legislation since the New Deal.

Results of the programs have been mixed, with the most striking gains for older Americans. According to a special report from U.S. News & World Report, “While the national poverty rate has ultimately fallen by 4 points since 1964, when the War on Poverty began, from 19.0 in 1964 to 15.0 percent in 2012, the poverty rate for people over 65 has plummeted by more than two-thirds, from 28.5 percent in 1966 to 9.1 percent in 2012.” But with the poverty rate still at 15 percent—46.5 million people in the country currently live below the poverty line—where do we go from here?

We are still in a period of high unemployment, and wage growth is stagnant for many of those who are able to find work. Issues of a living wage, child care, and disintegrating communities continue to need attention. Our economy is rapidly becoming more unequal, with a staggering concentration of wealth held by the very few at the top. All of these factors work against a serious effort to overcome poverty.

The Price of Conscience

by Duane Shank 04-03-2014
"Pacifists in Chains: The Persecution of Hutterites During the Great War," Johns Hopkins University Press

AS THE U.S. mobilized for World War I, a wave of patriotic fervor and xenophobia swept the country. Anything German was suspect, and those who were German-speaking and refused to fight against Germany were doubly suspect. Resentment and anger were directed at Anabaptist groups; several churches were burned and pastors beaten.

Inevitably, the demands of the state conflicted with the rights of conscience. Christian pacifists who only desired to be true to their beliefs by not serving in the military faced a militarized state that saw them as disloyal and disobedient. There was no legally recognized right to conscientious objection—if drafted, the only alternative for objectors was to go into the military and then refuse to participate.

Hutterite leaders had agreed that their young men would register, but if drafted and required to report for military service, their cooperation would end. They would refuse any orders making them complicit in war. Pacifists in Chains is the story of four young men—David, Michael, and Joseph Hofer, and Jacob Wipf—from the Hutterite colony in Alexandria, S.D., who faced that choice. Duane C.S. Stoltzfus, a professor at Goshen College in Indiana, was given access to previously unpublished letters from these men to their wives and families; the book is built around those letters.

Upon being drafted, the four reported in May 1918 and were sent to Fort Lewis, Wash. When they arrived, they immediately faced the test. Ordered to sign an “enlistment and assignment card” and line up as soldiers, they refused and were taken to the guardhouse. Following a brief court-martial, they were found guilty and sentenced to 20 years. Two weeks later, they were in chains and with armed guards on a train headed south to Alcatraz prison in the San Francisco Bay, then a military “disciplinary barracks.” Once there, they again refused to put on the uniform—in this case a military prison one—and were placed in solitary confinement in “the hole,” a basement dungeon. The cells seeped water and were infested with rats; the men were given bread and water to eat and subjected to beatings.

Fields of Faith and Doubt

by Duane Shank 10-02-2013
"Baseball as a Road to God," Gotham Books

IN MY MEMORY from nearly 50 years ago, the great pitcher Sandy Koufax is going against my Phillies in the old Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. The records show that such a game occurred on June 4, 1964, the right year for my memory, so it is possibly correct. But I cannot prove I was there that day, nor can anyone prove I wasn’t. For me, it has entered the realm of myth—I may not actually have been there, but in my memory I believe I was. In a similar manner in religious experience, historical events originally recorded as perhaps inexact memories come to be believed as literal truths.

In Baseball as a Road to God, John Sexton uses the categories of the study of religion to explore the meaning of baseball. Sexton, president of New York University, has taught a popular seminar on this topic for more than 10 years, and in this book collects the essence of those classes.

For a baseball fan, the well-told stories of historic players, games, and seasons are by themselves worth reading and will evoke many memories. But rather than a random collection of stories, Sexton groups them in topics—sacred place and time, faith and doubt, conversion and miracles, blessings and curses, saints and sinners—illustrating each with fitting examples. Underlying it all, he proposes, are two words and concepts that link baseball and religion. Both illustrate the significance of the ineffable, “that which we know through experience rather than through study, that which ultimately is indescribable in words yet is palpable and real.” And both have moments of hierophany—a term devised by religious historian Mircea Eliade to signify “a moment of spiritual epiphany and connection to a transcendent plane,” a “manifestation of the sacred in ordinary life.”

A Revolution of Rising Expectations

by Duane Shank 08-02-2013
Dreams of a better life—and political corruption—spark rising protests around the world.

(minoru suzuki / Shutterstock)

THE PHRASE “a revolution of rising expectations” is now part of the social science literature. When people who are not oppressed have a belief that life is getting better as economies improve, their expectations often outstrip the pace of actual change. Those rising expectations lead to unrest as demands for improvement continue to grow.

This summer we have seen that play out in several countries. As living standards increase, people are less likely to tolerate corrupt and inefficient governments. Washington Post reporters Anthony Faiola and Paula Moura recently wrote, “One small incident has ignited the fuse in societies that, linked by social media and years of improved living standards across the developing world, are now demanding more from their democracies and governments.”

In Turkey, it was the government’s plans to destroy the only public green space in the heart of Istanbul, a park that was to be replaced with a shopping mall. Protests against the plan soon grew into broader concerns about what is seen as increasingly authoritarian rule by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They turned violent when peaceful demonstrators were attacked by police, and ultimately an Istanbul court ruled against the plan, although it is not finally settled.

In Brazil, protests that began over a proposed rise in bus fares brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets. The protests soon escalated into opposition to the large amounts of money the government is investing in facilities for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, while neglecting basic health care and education. President Dilma Rousseff has promised political reforms and increased spending on public transportation and other social needs.

The Top 10 Stories of August 2, 2013

by Duane Shank 08-02-2013

Quote of the day.
“I’m working as hard as I can. Every time I talk to my boss I ask, ‘Is there any more work?’ I’m trying to go to school so I can get a better job, so I can get off welfare.” Yolanda Williams, Philadelphia, who works part-time and receives Medicaid and food stamps to support her disabled husband and unemployed daughter, while also attending school.
(NBC News)

1. U.S. employers add 162k jobs, rate falls to 7.4 pct.
U.S. employers added 162,000 jobs in July, the fewest since March. The gains were enough to lower the unemployment rate to a 4 1/2 -year low of 7.4 percent.
(Associated Press)

2. Dozens arrested in pro-immigration protest at U.S. Capitol.
Dozens of leaders in the immigration movement were arrested Thursday after they blocked a major intersection near the Capitol in a protest of Republican opposition to an immigration overhaul that would include a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million immigrants who are in the country illegally.
(McClatchy News)

3. G.O.P. rifts lead Congress to spending impasse.
Hours before leaving on summer recess, Congress on Thursday hit a seemingly intractable impasse on government spending, increasing the prospects of a government shutdown in the fall and adding new urgency to fiscal negotiations between the White House and a bloc of Senate Republicans.
(New York Times)

4. House GOP takes another cut at food stamp bill.
House Republicans are proposing to double their food stamp savings to nearly $40 billion by rolling back waivers for able-bodied adults and targeting funds to states that are willing to impose greater work requirements on the parents of young children.

5. Unions get creative to halt decline in membership.
With union membership on the decline, labor leaders are getting more creative — and some say more desperate — to boost sagging numbers and rebuild their waning clout.
(Associated Press)

6. Global warming, more wars? Climate could spark more conflict.
Peacemakers are likely to be in great demand by 2050 if global warming proceeds unabated. That is the implication of a new analysis exploring the links between climate change and conflict.
(Christian Science Monitor)

7. Kerry says Pakistan drone strikes could end as bilateral talks resume.
The U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry, and his Pakistani counterpart, Sartaj Aziz, said on Thursday the two countries will resume high-level negotiations over security issues. Kerry suggested that disputed drone strikes could end soon.

8. Iran assails house sanctions bill.
Iran reacted angrily on Thursday to the overwhelming approval of harsh legislation on sanctions by the House of Representatives, saying the action would further complicate stalled negotiations aimed at resolving the protracted dispute over the Iranian nuclear energy program.
(New York Times)

9. U.S. says Egypt restoring democracy.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said Egypt's military was "restoring democracy" when it ousted elected President Mohammed Morsi last month. Mr Kerry said the removal was at the request of "millions and millions of people."

10. Spree of prison breakouts stirs fear of new Al Qaeda threat.
In less than a week, more than 2,000 prisoners, many of them Islamic militants trained by Al Qaeda, have been broken out of detention in Iraq, Libya, and Pakistan in spectacularly violent raids.
(Chicago Tribune)

Editor’s note:


I am transitioning into a different role at Sojourners, so after nearly 7 years, today is the last Daily Digest I will do. Sojourners will continue to bring you the news you need to know, although the format may change. I have thoroughly enjoyed producing the Digest, and I have always been grateful for the emails with your appreciation, suggestions, and critiques.

Thank you.


The Top 10 Stories of August 1, 2013

by Duane Shank 08-01-2013

Quote of the day.
“I wanted to be part of creating a community where survivors and hard-living people could feel welcome.” Don Durham, founder of Healing Springs Acres, a community farm in North Carolina that provides people a means of serving their neighbors by growing thousands of pounds of produce for area feeding ministries.
(Associated Baptist Press)

The Top 10 Stories of July 31, 2013

by Duane Shank 07-31-2013

Quote of the day.
“What this research reveals above all is that poverty is hugely complex and controlled by myriad forces. The interconnectedness of the world through globalisation means the poorest and most marginalised face negative pressures from all quarters making it harder and harder to sustain a livelihood." Neva Frecheville, post-MDGs policy analyst for the Catholic aid agency Cafod, on a new report that the wellbeing of many poor people has deteriorated over the past 15 years as a result of factors beyond their control.

The Top 10 Stories of July 30, 2013

by Duane Shank 07-30-2013

Quote of the day.
"Remaining silent is not an option because it''s nearly impossible to survive on $7.25 an hour." Kareem Starks, a McDonald''s worker in Brooklyn, as hundreds of low-wage workers at fast food chains protested in New York, starting a week of demonstrations in several major cities demanding the federal minimum wage be raised to $15 an hour.
(Chicago Tribune/Reuters)

The Top 10 Stories of July 29, 2013

by Duane Shank 07-29-2013

Quote of the day.
“I think one of the great questions of our age for any faith group, is ‘What does the current generation owe succeeding generations?’ I am very much committed to working for a government that is in fact interested in handing off a safe planet, to handing off a peaceful rather than violent world to the next generation.” Shaun Casey, professor at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, named to head a new office in the State Department dedicated to outreach to the global faith community and religious leaders.
(Washington Post)

1. 80 percent of U.S. adults face near-poverty, unemployment.
Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty, or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream.
(CBS News/AP)

2. Americans’ frustration with gridlocked Washington grows.
Americans are eager for Washington to act on a host of issues they care deeply about, but instead they’ve just witnessed another week of sharp rhetoric and political finger-pointing.
(McClatchy News)

3. Despite ambitious goals, millions would be left out of immigration deal.
Even if the Senate legislation favored by Obama became law tomorrow, more than one in four illegal immigrants would remain undocumented and outside the system, according to federal estimates.
(Washington Post)

4. Momentum builds against N.S.A. surveillance.
What began on the political fringes only a week ago has built a momentum that even critics say may be unstoppable, drawing support from Republican and Democratic leaders, attracting moderates in both parties, and pulling in some of the most respected voices on national security in the House.
(New York Times)

5. Obama expresses reservations about Keystone XL pipeline project.
Barack Obama has given the strongest indication to date that he holds reservations about the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, saying the project would not create many jobs and could raise gasoline prices.

6. Pope Francis heads home; Vatican sees Brazil trip as success.
Pope Francis wrapped up his first overseas trip Sunday with one of the largest papal Masses in recent history and a final entreaty for Catholic youth and their ministers to get out and spread the faith.
(Chicago Tribune/Los Angeles Times)

7. EU urges Egypt rulers to end stand-off with Brotherhood.
Europe's top diplomat pressed Egypt's rulers on Monday to step back from a growing confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Mursi, two days after 80 of his supporters were gunned down in Cairo.

8. Mideast talks to resume amid deep skepticism.
Israeli and Palestinian teams flew to Washington on Monday to end five years of diplomatic stalemate and prepare for a new round of Mideast peace talks, though optimism was in short supply after two decades of failed attempts to reach a deal.
(Associated Press)

9. France praises Mali's election.
France hails Mali's presidential election, the first since a coup and an Islamist-led insurgency which it helped repel, a "great success".

10. Scores killed in Darfur tribal clashes.
Two days of fighting between rival tribes in Sudan's Darfur region has killed up to 94 people, tribal leaders said.
(Al Jazeera)

The Top 10 Stories of July 26, 2013

by Duane Shank 07-26-2013

Quote of the day.
“This is the beginning of the end of mass incarceration.” Natasha Frost, associate dean of Northeastern University’s school of criminology and criminal justice, on statistics showing the prison population in the United States dropped in 2012 for the third consecutive year.
(New York Times)

1. White House prepares for budget showdown.
Senior White House officials are discussing a budget strategy that could lead to a government shutdown if Republicans continue to demand deeper spending cuts, lawmakers and Democrats familiar with the administration’s thinking said Thursday.
(Washington Post)

2. Justice Department to take on states over voting rights.
The Obama administration announced Thursday that it will legally contest a series of laws around the country as part of an aggressive campaign to fight a recent Supreme Court ruling that it says could reduce minority voting.
(McClatchy News)

3. Juror says Zimmerman 'got away with murder.'
A juror in the trial of George Zimmerman says the former neighborhood watch volunteer "got away with murder" when he was acquitted earlier this month in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.

4. Spy agencies under heaviest scrutiny since abuse scandal of the '70s.
On three fronts — interrogation, drone strikes, and now electronic surveillance — critics inside and outside Congress have challenged the intelligence establishment, accusing officials of overreaching, misleading the public, and covering up abuse and mistakes. 
(New York Times)

5. Pope Francis urges Catholics to shake up dioceses.
Pope Francis has shown the world his rebellious side, urging young Catholics to shake up the church and make a "mess" in their dioceses by going out into the streets to spread the faith.
(Associated Press)

6. Army accuses Morsi of murder, kidnapping.
Ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi is under investigation for an array of charges including murder, the state news agency said on Friday, stoking tensions as Egypt's opposing political camps took to the streets.

7. Iran is said to want direct talks with U.S. on nuclear program.
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq told the Obama administration this month that Iran was interested in direct talks with the United States on Iran’s nuclear program, and said that Iraq was prepared to facilitate the negotiations, 
(New York Times)

8. Japan plans marine force and drone fleet.
The Japanese government has said it needs to create a U.S. Marines-style force and a fleet of drone aircrafts as it faces territorial threats from China and North Korea.
(Al Jazeera)

9. Honduran gangs offer peace from prison.
The 18th Street gang and its arch rival, Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, have taken small, ­suspicion-filled steps in recent weeks toward what church leaders and their supporters at the Organization of American States are calling “a peace process,” careful to avoid the term “gang truce.”
(Washington Post)

10. Report says 220,000 died in Colombia conflict.
Almost a quarter of a million Colombians have been killed in the country's internal conflict since 1958, most of them civilians, a government-funded report has said.
(Al Jazeera)

DRONE WATCH: U.S. Reduces Strikes in Pakistan

by Duane Shank 07-25-2013

In response to criticism, the U.S. has drastically reduced the number of drone strikes in Pakistan and is limiting them to “high-value targets.” The Associated Press reports:

The CIA has been instructed to be more cautious with its attacks, limiting them to high-value targets and dropping the practice of so-called "signature strikes" - hitting larger groups of suspected militants based purely on their behavior, such as being armed and meeting with known militants, said a current U.S. intelligence official and a former intelligence official briefed on the drone program. …

Two other senior American officials said the U.S. scaled back the number of attacks and tightened up its targeting criteria as a concession to the Pakistani army, considered the most powerful institution in the country and the final arbiter on the future of the drone program.

Read more here.

The Top 10 Stories of July 25, 2013

by Duane Shank 07-25-2013

Quote of the day.
"The impact of counter-terrorism measures on humanitarian action has been the source of growing concern within the humanitarian community. A particular fear has been that people in areas controlled by non-state armed groups designated as terrorists may have no or diminished access to humanitarian assistance and protection." Kyung-wha Kang, U.N. assistant secretary general for humanitarian affairs, on a new report showing counter-terrorism legislation is having a direct impact on humanitarian action.

1. Obama says, ‘Washington has taken its eye off the ball.’
President Obama on Wednesday said the fragile economic recovery is being undermined by worsening partisan politics in Washington and urged the country to stand behind him as Republicans try to roll back his vision of government.
(Washington Post)

2. NSA vote splits parties, jars leaders.
A $512.5 billion Pentagon appropriations bill cleared the House Wednesday evening after the leadership narrowly beat back efforts to curb the National Security Agency’s authority to collect private call records and metadata on telephone customers in the U.S.

3. With little argument, House limits U.S. military involvement in Syria, Egypt.
The House of Representatives approved measures Wednesday that would prevent the Obama administration from spending money on U.S. military operations in Syria without consulting Congress and would forbid funding U.S. military or paramilitary operations in Egypt.
(McClatchy News)

4. Louisiana agency sues dozens of energy companies for damage to wetlands.
Louisiana officials filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against dozens of energy companies, hoping that the courts will force them to pay for decades of damage to fragile coastal wetlands that help buffer the effects of hurricanes on the region.
(New York Times)

5. The cost of child poverty: $500 billion a year.
The United States has the second-highest child poverty rate among the world’s richest 35 nations, and the cost in economic and educational outcomes is half a trillion dollars a year, according to a new report by the Educational Testing Service.
(Washington Post)

6. Slum trip, mass youth meeting await Pope in Rio.
Pope Francis will bless the Olympic flag, visit a slum, and address upward of 1 million young Roman Catholics in Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana beach on Thursday, as Latin America's first pope continued his inaugural international trip as pontiff.
(Associated Press)

7. Leaving zero troops in Afghanistan? It's a serious option, Pentagon says.
Following through on the so-called “zero option” for Afghanistan — in which no U.S. troops would remain in the country past 2014 — would be a dangerous way forward for the Pentagon, warn some lawmakers who say they are increasingly concerned about the prospect.
(Christian Science Monitor)

8. Egypt rallies defy army chief's call.
Thousands of pro-Morsi supporters filled Nasr City on Thursday, repeating their weeks-long demand that the deposed president — who was removed by the army on July 3 — is reinstated.
(Al Jazeera)

9. Israeli-Palestinian talks to begin next week.
The first talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators for almost three years are scheduled to begin in Washington next Tuesday, according to an Israeli minister. 

10. South Sudan: food fears for thousands in Jonglei as violence intensifies.
Tens of thousands of people face severe food insecurity as they hide in the bush in Jonglei state, South Sudan, after another wave of violence cut off access to aid.

The Top 10 Stories of July 24, 2013

by Duane Shank 07-24-2013

Quote of the day.
“Ramadan is a wonderful time of year for me. It’s the time to reflect. ... Your hunger is supposed to remind you that there are people who are fasting involuntarily all over this world. … I think what you do is you dial your energy level back just a tad. Instead of running, you walk …” Rep. Keith Ellison on being Muslim in Congress during Ramadan.
(ABC News)

The Top 10 Stories of July 23, 2013

by Duane Shank 07-23-2013

Quote of the day.
"There''s little doubt that things are getting worse. Aside from the fact the New Mexico economy has been so slow to turn around, the systems that generally serve people who are the working poor and suddenly lose their jobs or face greater hardship, all those systems have been strained beyond the max." Kim Posich, executive director of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty on the Kids Count survey released Monday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that showed New Mexico with the highest child poverty rate in the U.S.
(Huffington Post/AP)

1. Poll finds black, white reactions to Zimmerman verdict vary wildly.
The not-guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman has produced dramatically different reactions among blacks and whites, with African Americans overwhelmingly disapproving of the jury’s decision and a bare majority of whites saying they approve of the outcome.
(Washington Post)

2. Obama seeking to take credit and set course for economy.
President Obama is restarting a major effort this week to focus public attention on the American economy, a strategy aimed at giving him credit for the improving job market and lifting his rhetoric beyond the Beltway squabbles that have often consumed his presidency.
(New York Times)

3. Pelosi rolls out economic agenda for women.
The California Democrat launched a legislative agenda of family-friendly policies, such as paycheck fairness for women, an increased federal minimum wage, and President Barack Obama''s proposed early childhood education initiative.
(McClatchy News)

4. Michelle Obama speaking out on gun violence.
It''s a second term for Michelle Obama, too, and she''s shifting her social-issues emphasis to kids and gun violence after spending four years stressing better physical fitness for the young.
(Associated Press)

5. Al Qaeda growing, but less focused on U.S.
The number of Al Qaeda affiliates has expanded, as has their geographic scope, but the terror network has become more diffuse and decentralized, the RAND study found.
(Christian Science Monitor)

6. Pope Francis tries to bolster church in Brazil.
Brazil is a huge battleground for souls. It has one in 10 of all the world’s Catholics, making it enormously important to the Vatican. But for years now, Catholicism has been on the losing end of a pitched struggle with increasingly influential evangelical churches.
(Washington Post)

7. U.S. military intervention in Syria would create ''unintended consequences.''
The top U.S. military officer warned senators on Monday that taking military action to stop the bloodshed in Syria was likely to escalate quickly and result in "unintended consequences," representing the most explicit uniformed opposition to deeper involvement in another war in the Middle East.

8. Top U.S. general urges approval of continued military presence.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Monday that he wanted the United States and Afghanistan to complete a security partnership agreement by October, allowing for the continued presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
(Washington Post)

9. Egypt starts amending constitution despite political divisions.
A panel of legal experts started work on Sunday to revise Egypt''s Islamist-tinged constitution, a vital first step on the road to fresh elections ordered by the army following its removal of Mohamed Mursi as president.

10. 4 decades after war ended, Agent Orange still ravaging Vietnamese.
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Air Force sprayed more than 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides over parts of southern Vietnam and along the borders of neighboring Laos and Cambodia. The herbicides were contaminated with dioxin, a deadly compound that remains toxic for decades and causes birth defects, cancer, and other illnesses.
(McClatchy News)

DRONE WATCH: Courts and Drones

by Duane Shank 07-22-2013

The ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights have  sued former Pentagon officials over the drone strikes that killed three U.S. citizens in Yemen. At a hearing in federal court on Friday, an Obama administration lawyer argued that courts should stay out of national security decision making. McClatchy News reports Judge Rosemary M. Collyer wasn’t so sure:

A Republican-appointed judge sounded dubious about the expansive claim, saying she was “really troubled” by assertions that courts are completely shut out of the drone strike debate. But for other legal reasons, the judge also sounded hesitant about a lawsuit targeted at top military and intelligence officials for violating the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens blown up in foreign lands.

Read more here

DRONE WATCH: Spies in the Sky

by Duane Shank 07-22-2013

In the past few months, drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen have dwindled to only a few. But the use of drones for unarmed surveillance has dramatically grown, giving the U.S. military unprecedented capabilities to track activities around the world. The Washington Post reports:

Over the past decade, the Pentagon has amassed more than 400 Predators, Reapers, Hunters, Gray Eagles and other high-altitude drones that have revolutionized counterterrorism operations. Some of the unmanned aircraft will return home with U.S. troops when they leave Afghanistan. But many of the drones will redeploy to fresh frontiers, where they will spy on a melange of armed groups, drug runners, pirates and other targets that worry U.S. officials.

Read more here.

The Top 10 Stories of July 22, 2013

by Duane Shank 07-22-2013

Quote of the day.
“It doesn’t matter that Pope Francis doesn’t use the expression ‘theology of liberation.’ What is important is that he speaks and acts on behalf of the liberation of the poor, the oppressed, and those who have suffered injustice. And that is what he has done, with indubitable clarity.” Leonardo Boff, theologian and former Franciscan priest who in 1985 was ordered not to write or speak publicly for a year because of his views, now emeritus professor of the philosophy of religion at the state university in Rio de Janeiro.
(New York Times)

1. Across U.S., people rally for 'Justice for Trayvon.'
Crowds chanted "Justice! Justice!" as they rallied in dozens of U.S. cities Saturday, urging authorities to change self-defense laws and press federal civil rights charges against a former neighborhood watch leader found not guilty in the shooting death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin.
(Associated Press)

2. Ex-city workers on edge in Detroit.
The battle over the future of Detroit is set to begin this week in federal court, where government leaders will square off against retirees in a colossal debate over what the city owes to a prior generation of residents as it tries to rebuild for the next.
(Washington Post)

3. Immigration faces critical weeks.
August is certain to become a storm of dueling town halls, rallies, and lobbying efforts on both sides, so how lawmakers handle the next two weeks will be critical. Three factions are emerging that could help decide what — if anything — the House does on immigration.

4. Strain on military families felt by young children.
At a time when the U.S. military has the highest number of parents among its active-duty service members and is engaged in the longest sustained military conflict in history, in Iraq and Afghanistan, new research is showing that the strain on military families is being felt acutely by even its youngest members, children under the age of 6.
(Washington Post)

5. In climbing income ladder, location matters.
The study — based on millions of anonymous earnings records and being released this week by a team of top academic economists — is the first with enough data to compare upward mobility across metropolitan areas.
(New York Times)

6. New frontiers for U.S. military spy drones.
As the Obama administration dials back the number of drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, the U.S. military is shifting its huge fleet of unmanned aircraft to other hot spots around the world.
(Washington Post)

7. Pakistan battles polio, and its people's mistrust.
Anger … over American foreign policy has led to a disastrous setback for the global effort against polio. In December, nine vaccinators were shot dead here, and two Taliban commanders banned vaccination in their areas, saying the vaccinations could resume only if drone strikes ended. 
(New York Times)

8. Unexploded ordnance killing Afghan civilians as bases abandoned.
The U.S.-led coalition is failing to clear unexploded munitions from the Afghan bases it’s demolishing as it withdraws its combat forces, leaving a deadly legacy that has killed and maimed a growing number of civilians, United Nations demining officials charge.
(McClatchy News)

9. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks' resumption put in doubt by both sides.
Moves towards a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were mired in rumours, rebuttals, criticism, and confusion on Sunday in an indication of the political and diplomatic swamp facing key negotiators and their mediator, the U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry.

10. Passing: Pioneering reporter Helen Thomas aged into legend.
Covering 10 presidents over five decades, Helen Thomas aged into a legend. She was the only reporter with her name inscribed on a chair in the White House briefing room — her own front row seat to history. Starting as a copy girl in 1943, when women were considered unfit for serious reporting, Thomas rose to bureau chief.
(Associated Press)

The Top 10 Stories of July 19, 2013

by Duane Shank 07-19-2013

Quote of the day. “If there is a law that I feel that does not conform with the Pennsylvania constitution and the U.S. Constitution, then I ethically cannot do that as a lawyer.” Kathleen Kane, Pennsylvania Attorney General, on why she won’t defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, joining a growing number of state officials who are refusing to defend state laws they believe are unconstitutional. (Washington Post)  

1. Billions in debt, Detroit tumbles into insolvency. Detroit, the cradle of America’s automobile industry and once the nation’s fourth-most-populous city, filed for bankruptcy on Thursday, the largest American city ever to take such a course. (New York Times)  

2. Senate negotiators strike deal on student loan rates. Instead of a fixed rate set by Congress as in the past, the rates for college and graduate school will go up and down with the market. They will be set once a year based on the Treasury’s 10-year borrowing rate, (McClatchy News)  

3. Sensenbrenner and Lewis partner again on Voting Rights Act. The white Wisconsin lawyer and the black preacher from Georgia strode into the Senate hearing room together and took their seats, shoulder-to-shoulder, at the witness table. Veteran lawmakers and experts in civil rights law, they had been here before. (Washington Post)  

4. Senate confirms nominees as G.O.P. discontent rises. President Obama’s executive branch nominees continued to cruise through the Senate on Thursday, including his controversial pick to be labor secretary, Thomas E. Perez, as Republican anger over a deal to avoid a weakening of the filibuster seeped into the open. (New York Times)  

5. Catholic college heads appeal to Catholics in House on immigration. Nearly 100 current and former heads of Catholic colleges and universities are appealing directly to Catholic members of the House of Representatives to "draw wisdom and moral courage from our shared faith tradition" in supporting comprehensive immigration reform. (Catholic News Service)  

6. World pays tribute as 'improving' Mandela turns 95. South Africa and the world showered tributes on Nelson Mandela on Thursday as the anti-apartheid leader turned 95 in hospital and his doctors reported he was "steadily improving" from a six-week lung infection. (Reuters)  

7. Kerry to meet Palestinian president in peace talks bid. The state department announced the plan after Mr Kerry met the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, in Amman. Palestinian officials who met earlier did not endorse a new US plan. (BBC)  

8. USAID announces assistance program for Afghan women. The U.S. Agency for International Development announced a new $200 million assistance program for Afghan women Thursday, amid fears that gains in women’s rights and development made over the past decade will dissipate after the withdrawal of foreign combat troops next year. (Washington Post)  

9. Obama considering military power in Syria, top general tells Senate. The top US military officer told a Senate panel Thursday the Obama administration is deliberating whether to use military power in Syria, where a civil war entering its third year has killed almost 93,000 people. (Guardian/AP)  

10. Egypt’s military and Islamists are far from a deal. More than two weeks after the military removed President Mohamed Morsi from power, intense efforts to bring the generals and the ex-president’s Islamist supporters to an agreement have so far come up empty, deepening Egypt’s political crisis. (New York Times)