Highlights of Jubilee National Prayer Breakfast

Watch the videos of the prayer breakfast, October 16, that ended the national fast for global debt cancellation. The fast was led by United Church of Christ pastor, David Duncombe, who fasted for forty days while walking the halls of Congress. John Thomas and Linda Jaramillo, of the UCC joined Rev. Duncombe by lobbying Congress on the first day of the fast.

Note especially the somber and thoughtful reflections of the Rev. Duncombe, which are in the second video below.

For a complete set of twenty videos of the Breakfast, click here.

Joe Stiglitz on George Bush

In this month’s Vanity Fair, Joseph Stiglitz has written a powerful critique of the economic policies of the Administration of President George Bush. Stiglitz, as you may recall, was the Chair of Bill Clinton’s Economic Advisors, then Chief Economist for the World Bank, Nobel Economics prize winner, and now a professor of economics at Columbia University.

The article was entitled "The Economic Consequences of Mr. Bush." Here is an excerpt from that article. For the entire article, click here.

When we look back someday at the catastrophe that was the Bush administration, we will think of many things: the tragedy of the Iraq war, the shame of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, the erosion of civil liberties. The damage done to the American economy does not make front-page headlines every day, but the repercussions will be felt beyond the lifetime of anyone reading this page.

I can hear an irritated counterthrust already. The president has not driven the United States into a recession during his almost seven years in office. Unemployment stands at a respectable 4.6 percent. Well, fine. But the other side of the ledger groans with distress: a tax code that has become hideously biased in favor of the rich; a national debt that will probably have grown 70 percent by the time this president leaves Washington; a swelling cascade of mortgage defaults; a record near-$850 billion trade deficit; oil prices that are higher than they have ever been; and a dollar so weak that for an American to buy a cup of coffee in London or Paris—or even the Yukon—becomes a venture in high finance.

And it gets worse. After almost seven years of this president, the United States is less prepared than ever to face the future. We have not been educating enough engineers and scientists, people with the skills we will need to compete with China and India. We have not been investing in the kinds of basic research that made us the technological powerhouse of the late 20th century. And although the president now understands—or so he says—that we must begin to wean ourselves from oil and coal, we have on his watch become more deeply dependent on both.

Up to now, the conventional wisdom has been that Herbert Hoover, whose policies aggravated the Great Depression, is the odds-on claimant for the mantle “worst president” when it comes to stewardship of the American economy. Once Franklin Roosevelt assumed office and reversed Hoover’s policies, the country began to recover. The economic effects of Bush’s presidency are more insidious than those of Hoover, harder to reverse, and likely to be longer-lasting. There is no threat of America’s being displaced from its position as the world’s richest economy. But our grandchildren will still be living with, and struggling with, the economic consequences of Mr. Bush.

Suicides Immigration and the Farm Bill

If you've had trouble wrapping your brain around the complicated Farm Bill being debated in Congress right now, this might help. Just think of two things: Suicides in India and Mexican migration to the US.

You've probably heard something of the suicide story. Grizzly, stories of farmers in the rural areas of Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh, who lose money on their crops year after year after year until finally in that very traditional, honor, shame society, they take their lives. Usually by eating their pesticides, sometimes falling on their hoe, sometimes worse.

It's an epidemic that has been growing for over a decade and is at least in the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands.

Now, there are a lot of causes for poverty in India, and not all of them relate to you and me, but one of them does. For years our country has been pushing India and other developing countries to lower their tariffs on imported goods and lower subsidies for their local farmers, while at the same time we have been increasing the subsidies we pay to our own farmers. Precise numbers are hard to come by, but in 2005, during World Trade Organization negotiations, the US offered to lower its overall subsidies to only $22 billion! That's a lot of money.

Those subsidies are an incentive for our farmers to over produce on a handful of select crops—mainly wheat, corn, rice, and soybeans—and then dump them on the world market at prices even starving farmers in India, Africa and Latin America can't compete with. Our over-production depresses world prices and literally lowers the incomes of farmers all over the world.

Then there's the case of Mexico. We pay big subsidies to our large conglomerate farmers to grow corn at costs far lower than what they should be and then that corn floods into Mexico and other countries at prices well below than what their more efficient small farmers can match.

Hundreds of thousands of Mexican farmers have lost their farms. Some moved into the cities, some now work in sweat shops, some sell tee-shirts and chicklets to tourists at beach resorts, and thousands attempt to get into the US to find work. When that happens, as you know, some get in, some are deported, and hundreds die on the border.

Ironically, recently after our economic policies decimated the Mexican corn farming industry, and encouraged consumers to become dependent on cheap subsidized US corn, suddenly corn-based ethanol became the next big thing in the US and the price of tortillas soared beyond the reach of most poor people in Mexico. They were knocked down by our economic policies twice.

This fall the US Farm Bill will once again be debated in the Senate, for the first time in several years. People of faith, led by organizations like Church World Service and Bread for the World, will be urging Senators to find more equitable ways to help our domestic farmers and not punish foreign ones, but the first step is to realize that economic decisions here have consequences that reach far further than provincial political acts. There are a thousand reasons for global poverty, but its time we understand the connections between things like our Farm Bill and the well being of the rest of the planet. We are the biggest economy in the world and our behavior matters. When doling out subsidies to a handful of giant corporate farms for a handful of crops, our elected officials may think that they are just giving away money to buy votes and campaign contributions, but in reality they are also contributing to farmers committing suicide in India and families being split up and destroyed in Mexico. It's trickle down economics at its worst.

The Cancel Debt Fast

The following article by Kristin Sundell, of Jubilee USA, announces the national "Rolling Fast" campaign from September 6--October 15. The purpose is to raise awareness of the international debt crisis and encourage Congress to pass the JUBILEE Act for debt cancellation . It also gives a brief, but good outline of the extent of the crisis, the biblical basis for our response to it, and the origins of the Jubilee movement. Read it and respond if you can. Many good things have been breaking our way in the last few months, and your help is needed to push the issue forward one more step.

Seven years after the beginning of the new millennium, we live in a world that is seriously out of balance. Every day, 13 percent of the worlds population goes hungry and more than 30,000 children die of easily preventable diseases.

The global gap between rich and poor continues to grow despite a global commitment to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which would cut extreme poverty in half by 2015. This year we mark the halfway point to the MDGs, but most countries are nowhere near meeting these goals. In sub Saharan Africa the percentage of people living in extreme poverty has actually increased since 1990 (the baseline year for the MDGs).

Some of the money needed to address extreme poverty can be generated from aid, but new infusions of aid cannot be effective until the drain of debt payments is stopped. Pouring more aid into impoverished countries without debt cancellation is like trying to fill a bathtub with the drain open.

In addition to its current impacts, the origins of the debt are unjust. A large portion of the current debt burden was accrued under oppressive regimes or unfair terms. During the Cold War era, loans were often made more for ideological and political reasons than for reasons of assisting development or addressing human needs. In places like apartheid South Africa, much of the money that was loaned was used to oppress the majority of the population. As people of faith we must ask, Why should impoverished people endlessly pay for bad loans that never benefited them?

In the Hebrew scriptures and in the Gospels, we find a vision of life that is liberating and just, governed by Sabbath cycles--the Sabbath Day, the Sabbath Year, and the Jubilee Year (Leviticus 25 and Luke 4). Jubilee is a powerful expression of Gods intent that all creatures partake fully in the abundance of Gods world.

Sabbath Year observance requires that every seven years debts are cancelled and those enslaved because of debt are freed, restoring equal relations among community members and preventing a widening gap between rich and poor.

In the late 1990s, a broad network of people of faith and conscience came together under the banner of Jubilee 2000, engaging their communities and challenging policy makers to address the international debt crisis. This mobilization brought the issue of debt to the world stage in 1999 and again in 2005, and won significant levels of relief for many countries, but it did not end the debt crisis.

Moved by the continuing debt crisis, and inspired by the Jubilee vision, people around the world are calling their political leaders to observe a Sabbath Year in 2007, seven years after Jubilee 2000.

This September 6 - October 15, thousands of people across the country and around the world will demonstrate their commitment by participating in a 40-day, Cancel Debt Fast for debt cancellation and an end to extreme global poverty.

The fast will be organized in tandem with a public ministry of prayer and fasting led by UCC pastor, Rev. David Duncombe. Rev. Duncombes ministry will involve an open-ended fast, beginning on September 6th. In the spirit of Isaiah 58:6, the Cancel Debt Fast will seek to loose the chains of injustice and to set the oppressed free. As he fasts, Rev. Duncombe will visit Congressional offices, urging the passage of the Jubilee Act for Responsible Lending and Expanded Debt Cancellation (H.R. 2634).

People of faith and conscience are urged to participate in the Cancel Debt Fast by visiting cancel debt fast and publicly committing to fast for a day or more. During their fast, supporters should contact or meet with their Senators and Representative, urging them to support the Jubilee Act.

We know that debt cancellation works. Debt relief now has a ten year track record of freeing up resources to fight poverty. The documented impacts of the 2005 round of debt cancellation include thousands of new teachers hired, the importation of vital food supplies for those affected by drought, and the provision of health care for millions who could not afford it before. But only 1 in 10 of the worlds poorest will benefit from debt cancellation provided to date.

The imperative to finish what was started remains: to lift the excruciating burden of debt that continues to siphon resources from impoverished countries that should be used for health care, education, and clean water. What better time than the 2007 Sabbath Year to finally commit to the debt cancellation necessary to address the crisis of extreme poverty?

Kristin Sundell is the director of advocacy and organizing for Jubilee USA Network.

Fairness Amendment to Farm Bill Fails in House

Fight For Meaningful Farm Reform Continues

All year, Bread for the World's Seeds of Change campaign has focused attention on farm bill reform. Just last week, thousands of activists called Washington to support the Fairness in Food and Farm Policy Amendment in the House of Representatives. On Thursday, July 26, the House defeated the Fairness Amendment on a vote of 117-309.

If your representative voted yes, please call and thank him or her.

The Fairness Amendment would have reformed the farm bill in significant ways to reduce hunger and poverty and help farmers of modest means in this country and in developing countries. Though the amendment didn't pass, the pressure we brought for reform forced congressional leaders to add provisions to the bill that increase funding for nutrition and conservation programs that will help hungry people and promote environmental stewardship.

Most importantly, pressure for reform of the farm bill is now stronger than ever. Bread for the World members played a key role in raising awareness about the inequities of the farm bill and the needs of hungry and poor people in our country and overseas. Without our voice, Congress would not have given serious consideration to the need for reforms in the farm bill.

The farm bill debate is far from over. There are still many steps in the process of finalizing this legislation. Major farm bill decisions also remain to be made in the Senate.

You can be proud of the intense and well-coordinated effort that our Bread for the World grassroots membership has poured into this challenging campaign. We have already had an impact, and the story is far from over.

Thanks for your hard work. Stay tuned!

Action Alert from Bread for the World

Congress Must Reform the Farm
Call your representative and senators in Congress and urge broad reform of the U.S. farm bill.


You may have already heard about the very important Farm Bill which (among other things) gives millions in subsides to very large farmers in the US and very little to the struggling small farmers. What's more, the large subsidies are an incentive for over production, which is then dumped on the international market at prices poor farmers around the globe are unable to match, throwing millions of already poor families into desperate hunger.

By July 17, please dial toll-free —which will connect you to the Capitol switchboard—and ask to be connected to your representative's office in order to leave your message. Call back and do the same for your senators.

Main Message

  • Tell them the status quo on farm policy is not good enough.
  • Urge them to ensure that the farm bill that comes to the House and Senate floors includes:

o Reform of commodity policies that hurt U.S. farmers of modest means and make it harder for farmers in poor countries to feed their families.

o Increased food stamp benefits so that U.S. families can afford a healthy diet.

o More investment in rural development, especially resources targeted to the U.S. communities in greatest need.

If your representative or senators are not on the Agriculture Committee (you can find out at www.bread.org), encourage them to talk with their colleagues on the Agriculture Committee and House and Senate leadership to see that these changes are made.


  • We have reached a critical point in this year's Offering of Letters. The House and Senate Agriculture Committees intend to take up the farm bill in July. Our responses will need to come quickly as the bill takes shape in the committee, moves to the House floor and begins to move in the Senate.
  • Every member of the House and Senate has a stake in the farm bill—not just members of the Agriculture Commit­tee. But so far, the House committee has signaled its reluctance to reform the farm bill. (The Agriculture Chair in the Senate plans to take up the bill in July.)
  • We know that reform is crucial to struggling farmers and rural families in the United States, and to hungry people here and around the world. Your congressional representatives need to hear from constituents that improving this bill is critical.
  • In particular, the commodities section of the farm bill should correct our current payments structure, which con­centrates payments in the hands of relatively few, relatively affluent people. Some who receive large payments do not actually farm. The farm bill should also change policies that distort trade, because they make it more difficult for farmers in poor countries to sell their crops and feed their families.
  • Pushing for change in the farm bill is one of Bread for the World's most ambitious and challenging—and most important—campaigns. Progress has been very encouraging: there have already been many promising conversations with members of Congress. Editorials in major media have called for reform. You have moved the debate this far —now let's ensure that Congress passes the reforms we are seeking.

Want To Do More?

  • Write a letter to the editor of your local paper. For help, contact Shawnda Hines, shines@bread.org.
  • Ask five of your friends to call their members of Congress.
  • If you would like to receive email updates, go to www.bread.org and click on “newsletter signup.” There you can join a Quickline (to be notified by email when there is an urgent legislative action involving your member of Congress) and register for Fresh Bread (our biweekly email update on what’s happening in Washington with hunger issues.)
  • Visit www.bread.org to learn about other ways to help reform the farm bill, or contact your Bread for the World regional organizer.

Debt Vultures

Most people who would be reading this blog know something of the awful debt crisis that has been crippling the development of dozens of countries and the world for generations. Recently a new chapter in their suffering has evolved that is new low of evil.

It seems that a number of international funds have been buying up the old devalued debts of a number of countries and then suing them in court for their full price. Here is an example. Zambia, one of the poorest countries in the world had an old loan from Romania for about $15 million. Since Zambia is too poor to make regular payments on it, over the years it was devalued to less than $3 million. At that point, back in 1999, Donegal International Ltd, a US owned company registered in the British Virgin Islands bought the old loan from Romania, and then sat on it for several years. Last year at the meeting of the group of eight wealthy industrialized countries, a deal was made to cancel $42 million of Zambia’s old debts owed to specific countries. It was cause for great celebration because freeing up that much money meant that schools could be reopened and medicines for malaria and AIDS could be purchased. However, not long after, Donegal sued Zambia in British court for all of the back money, plus fees, plus penalties. The total they claimed was (not surprisingly) was almost exactly the amount that Zambia was set to save after the cancellation of its debts. That is why these funds are called “Vultures.” The courts wrote it down to $15 million, but that is still more than five times what Zambia had owed on them.

Here’s an even more interesting story. The Democratic Republic of Congo is another African country that had a number of its debts canceled last year. Soon afterward Paul Singer, the head of Elliott Associates, bought up old, worthless bonds owed by Congo for about $10 million and then sued and won $127 in a US court. Along with other law suits, he expects to eventually win over $400 million from the Congo.

According to US law, President Bush could reverse the decision under the doctrine of “comity,” which gives the president the right to end a speculator’s seizure of a debtor’s funds if it violates US foreign policy, which this certainly does. Several faith groups and other non-profits have petitioned the president to do just that, and several court cases have been held up waiting to receive a note from the President halting the collections actions. Representative John Conyers once questioned the president about it and was assured by him that he would take care of it within the week. That was in February 2007, but so far he’s been silent. Why?

There’s no way of knowing exactly why President Bush has remained eerily quiet on helping out Congo, especially since what Paul Singer has done clearly violates US foreign policy. But it is interesting to note that Paul Singer has also given a total of $1.6 million to Mr. Bush’s two presidential campaigns, $10 million to Rudolph Giuliani’s campaigns, and $1.3 million to various other Republican campaigns, including a substantial portion of the infamously dishonest “Swift Boat” campaign against John Kerry. Whether or not Mr. Bush would do something as immoral as protecting a campaign contributor at the expense of millions of hungry people in the Congo is anybody's guess, but it's worth noting in passing nonetheless.

You can do something to help out debt-stricken Congo without waiting for the President to act. Jubilee USA, the interfaith debt campaign has introduced a “JUBILEE Act" in Congress that calls for the cancellation of US held loans to some fifty-five countries, improve the lending practices of banks and countries, and condemns the practices of vulture funds like these. You can help by calling your Congressional representatives and encouraging them to support this act.

Endless Poverty in Africa

There are regions of intense poverty all over the world, but Africa remains the poorest continent anywhere. Three quarters of its people are at the bottom of the bottom.

What causes that? Here are just a few of the more obvious causes. In a future podcast we will talk about some of the new solutions being discussed.

One is the extreme debt trap that so many of Africa’s countries have fallen into. For example, the US gives $3.6 billion to Sub-Saharan Africa per year, but the region pays that much back to US banks and international lending institutions (such as the World Bank) about every ten days. There’s no way that a government, good or bad, that could ever develop its economy and lift its people under that much ancient debt.

Second are a combination of weak governments and strong elites. I don’t mean that some do not have strong dictators. But the government structures are weak and often controlled by economic elites. Their governments are structured to help a small circle of elites and are a bureaucratic nightmare for foreign investments and trade.

Most countries have abundant natural resources, and under some forms of governance, that would be a boon, but under weak governments, it has allowed their strong elites to be non-responsive to their people. They can just suck up all of the oil, gold and agriculture wealth for themselves and are not at all responsive to the people.

For decades foreign, wealthy nations like ours have actually promoted weak governments and strong business interests (you might recognize the same doctrine being promoted in our country). And as a result they have created a system with an elite group at the top unresponsive and uncaring of vast poverty at the bottom.

Third, there are many poor countries that are land locked next to other countries that are equally poor, and they drag each other down. In other regions that’s not a problem. Switzerland is landlocked, but it has Germany next to it that can build roads to ports but Uganda has to depend on Kenya.

Fourth has been their seemingly endless wars, something that again is exacerbated by weak governments and which benefits strong elites (both within and surrounding the warring nations). When your family or clan is benefiting financially from war it becomes very difficult to see a way to negotiate its end. But the results are devastating. Economist Paul Collier estimates that a war typically costs a country and its neighbors $64 billion. And once a state fails, it takes 59 years, on average, to return to functionality, at a cost of $100 billion. And the tab for foreign military interventions to attempt to pick up the pieces (though usually too little and too late to do much good) is born by foreign tax payers like you and me.

Fifth is globalization. The Washington Consensus on rules for free trade has been a disaster for Africans. For one thing, the unwritten rule underlying free trade is cheap labor, which Africa has in abundance, but it can’t compete with the even cheaper wages being paid to poor people in Indonesia, Mali, Thailand, etc., where the infrastructure is better and the financial institutions more advanced. The “one size fits all” rules of economic globalization have not only failed Africa, they have actually made its situation worse.

These are just a few of the irascible problems. We will offer a few suggestions on what to do about it in a future post.

The Scope of the Debt

One of the great sleeper issues on the planet is how so many poor and developing countries continue to have their growth crippled due to international debts that were acquired by their grand parents decades ago.

A few years ago I was on a Church World Service delegation to Honduras, one of the countries slated to receive a portion of its debts canceled by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. We were in a remote village up in the mountains called Dominguez.

One of our purposes there was to establish a library in the local school. CWS was in partnership with another fine Non-Governmental Organization called “AlphaLit” that runs literacy programs all over the world. The arrangement was that CWS would donate the books and AlphaLit would teach the literacy classes.

It was all a fine presentation and there were smiles all around, but when the festivities had ended one person in our group asked about the underlying issue of why we were even there. Why, she said, are we way up here setting up a library and literacy program in a school? Isn’t this something that, well, that schools do? Why isn’t there a library here already? Why aren’t there teachers teaching literacy here? Isn’t this redundant?

The answer from our host was revealing. Oh, he said, the government can’t afford teachers. These schools were built years ago, but we can only staff them with teachers for two or three months out of the year, sometimes less. Someone else then asked, well, why doesn’t the government have money for schools? They’re pretty basic aren’t they?

He laughed and said that Honduras has such an overwhelming outstanding external debt that the annual payments on just the interest owed on it literally drained the country of the finances needed for what you and I would believe to be the most basic human services like education and health. Until finally receiving debt relief from the Inter-American Development Bank in November of 2006, Honduras spent more of its national income on its loans, than it did on health care and education combined.

This summer Congress has introduced a “Jubilee Act” that would cancel all of the debts owed to the US by these poor countries, plus encourage the international lending institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF to do the same. You can influence the outcome of that debate. Call your member of congress and ask if he or she has co-sponsored the act and if not would they do so. There are children in Honduras who may be going to school next year with your help.

Suicides in India

In the rich farmlands of India there is tragedy growing, and because of globalization, you and I are contributing to it. In the midst of a booming economy, in the “White Gold” regions of cotton farming, record numbers of Indian farmers are committing suicide. Here are the numbers: Since 2001, over 5,980 farmers from the southern Indian state of Karnataka, more than 2,410 in Andhra Pradesh, and 2,280 in Maharashtra have all killed themselves. That’s about three hundred of farmers a year taking their lives in the different parts of India since just 2000. And the total could be well over 15,000.

Those statistics are staggering, but the personal stories are worse. For example, after an unexpected, pounding rain washed away his already struggling cotton crop, 23-year-old Ravinder Kisan Piwar, who had just become engaged to be married, killed himself by swallowing the pesticides he had purchased to protect his field. Prahalad Kisan Rathod hung himself on a tree outside his house after he experienced four years of consistent crop failure and mounting debts for seed, fertilizer, and basic foods. Sixty-year-old Punaji Ramaji Jhade, was the first and still the oldest in his village to kill himself, and it was also because he could no longer pay anything to his creditors. He left his home for his fields one morning saying goodbye to his wife and children, and when he was out in his field alone, he quietly fell onto his pitch fork and onto the land that had stubbornly refused his efforts to grow cotton. In deeply traditional, honor and shame, cultures, when a man is no longer able to fulfill his designated role in society, then it is the just and moral thing to do to take his own life. It is grizzly, awful, and painful, but when faced with a choice between endless despair or honor, the honorable route increasingly wins.

Why should Christians in the US care about this personal tragedy unfolding thousands of miles away? Aside from the fact that people of faith should feel a kinship with the suffering of any other member of the family of God, a portion of the causes of the economic roots of the crises is our fault.

There are many causes for their struggles. There has, for example, been a steadily decreasing amount of rain in most of the agricultural regions of India. Also, many have gotten tied up with genetically modified seeds, which are more expensive, don’t regenerate, and require costly fertilizers and pesticides.

But another reason is the US government’s policy of paying enormous amounts of money to a handful of farmers (mainly wealthy, mainly corporate), encouraging them to over-produce commodities like cotton, rice, and corn, and then the US dumps the excess on the international market at prices no poor farmer in India, Africa or Latin America can match. By under-selling farmers all over the world we have become a major contributor to the impoverishment of millions of innocent people. The result is that the global price for cotton has been going steadily down for over a decade, while the amount we pay to our farmers —to keep them producing—has been going up.

The US Farm Bill that covers those subsidies is coming up for revision this year for the first time in several years. You can influence its out come and help feed hungry families in India, Africa, and Latin America. Call your congresspersons and ask them to vote to put a cap on the subsidies and spend the money helping our own small farmers, and at the same time increasing the national budget for food stamps.

You’ll feel better for having done it, it and possibly a family on the other side of the planet may eat better soon because of it.