Finally a Progressive Budget

Robert Reich | Feb 26, 2009

President Obama’s new budget is, well, audacious -- not just because it includes several big, audacious initiatives (universally affordable health care, and a cap-and-trade system for coping with global warming, for starters) but also because it represents the biggest redistribution of income from the wealthy to the middle class and poor this nation has seen in more than forty years.

In order to see the whole, you need to look both at where revenues will come from and at where they’ll go:

Acteal, January 29, 2009

Visit by delegation from Equal Exchange, Church of the Brethren, United Church of Christ, and Witness for Peace to Acteal, a pacifist religious community in Chiapas, Mexico, and the site of a horrific mass murder of 16 children, 20 women (many pregnant), and 9 men in 1997 by unknown paramilitaries widely assumed to be related to government forces.

UCC church leaders shocked at treatment of local pastor by Oklahoma legislators

Written by Gregg Brekke

United Church of Christ leaders on Thursday (Feb. 12) expressed outrage at the perceived discriminatory treatment of a local UCC pastor by the Oklahoma State House of Representatives.

In what legislators are calling a first, one-fifth of the Oklahoma House voted Feb. 11 to strike from the record a prayer offered on the chamber floor by the Rev. Scott H. Jones, pastor of Cathedral of Hope UCC-Oklahoma City. Jones had been invited to deliver the prayer and serve as chaplain for the day by Rep. Al McAffrey, D-Oklahoma City.

Following the prayer, McAffrey asked that the session vote to include Jones' prayer in the House journal, the official daily record of the chamber. An objection was raised by Rep. John Wright, R-Broken Arrow, who called for a vote on the prayer's inclusion.

"It was a pretty chaotic moment," said Jones of the procedural points of order that ensued following Wright's objection. "My understanding was that [an objection to a prayer] never happens."

The vote took place once order had been established, with 64 representatives voting to include the prayer, 20 opposing it and 17 abstentions.

Jones is a constituent of McAffrey's Oklahoma City district. Both believe the objection was raised because of their sexuality. Jones leads the largest predominantly LGBT congregation in Oklahoma City and is himself gay. McAffrey is Oklahoma's only openly gay legislator.

"As the leader of Rev. Jones' denomination, I am deeply offended by the treatment he received from the legislature and dismayed by the message of intolerance it sends to the citizens of Oklahoma and beyond," said the Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President of the UCC. "It is comforting, however, to remember that our prayers are judged at the throne of grace and not in the halls of petty principalities."

"The Oklahoman" newspaper quoted McAffrey on Wednesday, saying that "because most of Scott's congregation are gay people and Scott is gay himself, I'm sure that's the reason why there were negative votes on it."

But Wright sees it differently. In the same Oklahoman article, he stated his objection was procedural - that prayers were only entered into the official record on Thursdays - but later said his "actions were motivated by the faith."

Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, was among those who voted to strike the prayer from the record. Kern is on record as calling homosexuality "the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism and Islam."

The Rev. Gordon R. Epps, conference ministry coordinator for the UCC's Kansas-Oklahoma Conference, delivered a letter to Speaker of the House Rep. Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, on Thursday (Feb. 12). Epps commended Benge "for the democratic way you led the house when an unusual challenge was made to vote on whether or not to enter into the record the opening prayer given by the Rev. Scott Jones."

Responding in support of Jones, the UCC's Executive for Health and Wholeness Advocacy, the Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, said, "Once again, bigotry infects the Oklahoma statehouse by the vote of 20 legislators to reject the prayer offered by the Rev. Scott Jones. In this mean-spirited vote, they have demonstrated profound disrespect to a gifted pastor and a congregation dedicated to faithfully serving its community through a robust and vibrant ministry."

Schuenemeyer sees the proceedings as a clear indication of discrimination. "The action of these legislators has dishonored the core American values of freedom of religion and freedom of expression," he said. "The citizens of Oklahoma and this nation deserve better and ought not to tolerate such behavior from their fellow citizens, much less their elected officials."

The United Church of Christ is a denomination of 1.2 million members in 5,600 autonomous local churches that are joined together in Christian mission through local associations, regional conferences and the biennial all-church General Synod.

At their 2005 General Synod in Atlanta, UCC delegates voted overwhelmingly in support of a resolution calling for marriage rights to be extended to same-gender couples. The resolution, In Support of Equal Marriage Rights for All, "affirms equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender and declares that the government should not interfere with couples regardless of gender who choose to marry and share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of legally recognized marriage."

Cathedral of Hope UCC-Oklahoma City began in 2000 as a church plant of Cathedral of Hope UCC in Dallas. In January 2007, they became a fully autonomous congregation within the United Church of Christ.

Stiglitz remedy for global crisis

By Rupa Damodaran

NOBEL laureate of economics Professor Joseph E. Stiglitz, who has set about the mammoth task to reform the global financial system, wants the international community to get together and create a special emergency facility to address the current global crisis.

"This will not be the last of crises, so we need to work towards fundamental reforms but in the short run, we need emergency measures which need to involve all the existing institutions.

"We also have to work in temporary arrangements which can be brought into play very quickly and help address the current crisis," he said in an interview with Business Times.

Stiglitz, who chairs a UN task force known as the Commission of Experts on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System, is also calling for a new international credit facility, through which the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund can extend some funds.

"We have to ensure that the concern of developing countries be better articulated and reflected within the mechanism by which these funds are provided."

On the IMF, he said there have been improvements to the way it has been creating some facility for providing funds during the crisis minus its traditional conditionality which had affected East Asia during the previous crisis in 1998.

"While the governance in the IMF has serious flaws, the good news is that it is trying to improve matters. But the bad news is that the magnitude and speed of the reforms is too slow to be relevant to the current crisis.

"I would prefer for these problems to be addressed by a comprehensive international institution rather than a small selective group. This is a global problem and it needs global participation in the solution and not 7, 8, 13 or 20 countries."

Stiglitz, who was in Kuala Lumpur for the Bank Negara High Level Conference held in conjunction with its 50th anniversary, said preliminary findings of the task force will be disclosed at the UN end-March.

Bank Negara Governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz and UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs' assistant secretary-general for economic development Jomo Kwame Sundaram are the two Malaysians appointed to the committee.

Stiglitz, a former chief economist at the World Bank, believes that the downturn is getting worse and the effects beginning to spread.

Unlike the 1998 financial crisis where exports enabled Asian countries to get out of the crisis quickly, it would be more difficult this time around as almost all countries are facing an economic downturn.

In the case of the US, exports are more likely to diminish with trading partners going into recession.

With declining consumption, investment and exports, the only offsetting factor is government expenditure, But the general consensus in the US is that even with the stimulus, public expenditure will not be able to make up for the shortfall in the other three categories.

In the case of Asia, Stiglitz pointed out the region's strength, which can be drawn from countries like China with its huge reserves and its resolve to stimulate consumption and investment over the recent years.

"If China maintains a reasonable degree of health, it could have enormous benefits to all countries in Asia. On the other hand, China and the growth of the others in region depends on exports ... that will make the challenge in Asia greater."

In the case of Malaysia, prevailing good regulatory framework has helped it to be well equipped to address the crisis.

To boost domestic consumption further, he drew references to macro economic principles of increasing consumption, exports, government expenditure and investment.

"One of the advantages of countries with large reserves in Asia is that you can do investments which can prepare for long-term economic growth, provided the downturn does not last too long. There is also an advantage of being small. You can borrow for your own domestic needs without disturbing global financial markets, unlike the US," he said.

In the case of US, its borrowing needs are huge that if it goes about trying to solve its needs with a deficit expected to be 10 per cent of GDP next year, it will have a significant impact on the global financial market.