PPC News

Stopping ISIS

ISIS has now added a second murderous attack on Paris in 2015, this time hitting six targets.

Europe has joined forces, committing to collective- defense responses to ISIS. Russia took an important symbolic step by announcing that it was in fact a terrorist bomb had downed its plane over the Sinai Peninsula.

But no detailed common strategy has been shaped. Obama is correct (despite Republican disagreement) to say that ground troops should come mainly from the military forces of countries in the region. That judgment is not made from weakness, as Republicans would have it, but because under Obama, America will pursue the most effective strategy to eliminate ISIS.

The crucial component of a strong strategy is diplomacy, as demonstrated by the meetings in Turkey and Vienna with all the key international players present.  The U.S., Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Iran, Turkey, and the Gulf states haven’t yet agreed on everything, very importantly including the place of President Assad in a Syrian peace agreement. Yet they have agreed on destroying ISIS (with other objectives, explicitly or implicitly, ranked lower in importance).

To defeat ISIS, we must listen to ISIS. Many western commentators–at least before last weekend’s carnage—emphasized western responsibility for the turmoil in the Middle East.  Among the corollaries was the position that western attacks gave the terrorists the excuse they needed for their barbarism.  Also, it has been popular to say that we shouldn’t send in troops to Syria because that is what ISIS wants.

Whatever the truths of western responsibility, ISIS doesn’t care. Its goal is to kill as many infidels as possible. They want an Armageddon battle and to recruit soldiers on that heady narcotic. They have also proved definitively that they don’t want to be left alone in their caliphate.

They want the world, and the world must stop them.” The strategy to do this has been immediately launched. Russian, French and American planes and Kurdish troops took back the ISIS capital of Raqqa November 17, depriving ISIS of some territory and inhabitants to tax. ISIS needs trucks to raise revenue from exporting its oil. American planes have taken out 100 trucks so far and are cutting the key route from Syria to the Iraqi border.

Such broad-based determination suggests the likelihood that a plan for transition in Syria will be set in motion. On the negative side, we can certainly expect more high-profile attacks. Not all will fail.

Elizabeth Spiro Clark, Chair
International Affairs Task Force

Sister Simone Campbell: On the Road to an “Economy of Inclusion”

simonecampbellWhen Pope Francis visits the United States this month, Sister Simone Simone Campbell told a WNDC audience on September 16, he will stress “the best-kept secret of the Catholic Church”—more than 100 years of papal teaching about economic justice and living in ways that promote the common good. That message, detailed in an 1891 encyclical by Pope Leo XIII but often “forgotten” because “it makes people nervous,” will be a key theme of Pope Francis’s message to our nation and the world.

Sister Simone, director of NETWORK (a national social justice advocacy organization) and founder of the Nuns on the Bus campaign, described the “economy of inclusion” that NETWORK (and Pope Francis) passionately promotes. Pope Francis “is trying to open the Church to the message that no one should be left out of our care or of the conversation” about our national well-being, she said.

The Nuns on the Bus project, formed in 2012 to oppose the harsh impact of the Paul Ryan budget on the poor and middle classes, is now on its third tour throughout the nation to collect stories about the challenges and needs of people everywhere. They have been conducting a 2,000-mile tour through seven states—Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia—that are strongly marked by political divisions. The sisters hoped to present video clips of their conversations with people they met on the tour to Pope Francis ahead of his visit.

At every stop, the sisters heard powerful stories from Americans buffeted by economic hardship and the impact of our divided politics. Sister Simone described meeting Mothers to Mothers in St. Louis, African American women who form alliances with white women to promote mutual understanding. These African American mothers face problems few white mothers could imagine, such as having to sternly instruct their sons how to keep from being  killed by police. One woman, asked by her grandson how long such problems will continue, ruefully answered, “For the rest of your life.” Those of us “who walk around in white skin,” said Sister Simone, have a special obligation to help correct such injustices.

“What kind of nation are we,” Sister Simone asked, when a child they met in Kansas City—whose parents were deported when her father went to pay a traffic ticket—tried to kill herself to protect her grandmother and sister from the burden of supporting her? Recent political rhetoric about undocumented immigrants ignores how our national policies (such as the NAFTA and CAFTA treaties and our war on drugs) destabilize thecountries these people are fleeing—or how our own businesses encourage immigration to exploit the cheap labor of immigrants, she said.

“We the people,” said Sister Simone, can and must do better than to tolerate such injustices. To live up to our nation’s ideals, we must engage in “holy curiosity” (find out what is going on); “sacred gossip” (spreading the word about what needs to be done); and “doing one thing well.”

If we each do our part, she believes, we affirm the value of community and challenge the “unpatriotic lie” that our problems are so overwhelming that there is nothing we can do.  By committing to one specific action, we can beat back injustice, care for one another, and make the United States a better place for everyone.

Sister Simone Campbell is the author of A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Help Create Hope, Change, and Community. A documentary titled “Nuns on the Bus” is now in production, and more information about how to support NETWORK is available at www.networklobby.org.  

WNDC members can view a videotape of Sister Simone’s talk by visiting the video gallery tab on the members’ only section of the WNDC website. You can also purchase a DVD of the event by calling Patricia Fitzgerald at (202) 232-7362. 

Elizabeth Joyce
WNDC Vice President for Communications

Government to the Rescue

Republicans appear glued to their anti-government ideology. It seems for them that only freeing up corporations and super-rich Americans to do as they please will benefit America, that is, America defined as corporate business and the super-rich.  Everyone else can breathe more polluted air, not be able to afford life-saving drugs and get killed in accidents caused by sleep-deprived truck drivers.  Recent exposés:

  1. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agencythreatened to withhold approval for 2016 Volkswagens and Audis because of discrepancies between environmental pollution tests and the far-higher levels of pollution that proved to be emitted on the road. It turns out that Volkswagen and Audi diesel cars have been built to deceive pollution emissions tests and that the so-called “defeat device” had been in operation since 2009. VW CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned September 23, three days after the revelation was made public. Three cheers for the government regulator! But note that it took six years to stop Volkswagen and that the auto industry pressured Congress to ensure the U.S. Highway Administration didn’t have the requisite regulatory powers.
  2. When Turing Pharmaceuticals acquired the cheap generic drug Daraprim, the price went from $13.50 a tablet to $750. Dr. Judith Aberg, the chief of the division of infectious diseases at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told the New York Timesthat the price increase could force hospitals to use “alternative therapies that may not have same efficacy.” In another case, Cycloserine increased in price from $500 for 30 pills to $10,800 when drug was acquired by Rodelis Therapeutics. ButRodelis then agreed to return the drug to its former owner, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Purdue University, according to the New York Times No government regulation rescue on pharmaceutical pricing yet, but Hillary Clinton announced a plan to give the federal government authority to negotiate prices through Medicare, and she publicly criticized companies that acquire generic drugs and put unjustifiable price hikes in place.
  3. The U.S. Department of Transportation opposed efforts in Congress led by Maine Senator Susan Collins to roll back new hours of service regulations so that truck drivers have the rest they need to safely operate commercial vehicles. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimatedthat the new rules would save 19 lives and 560 injuries, and prevented approximately 1,400 crashes.

Citizens cannot effectively pursue their health and welfare relying only on their own individual efforts.  They need governmental institutions created through free elections to be empowered to work for the common good.  The Volkswagen case, in particular, should put a nail in the coffin of mindless anti-government ideology.

Elizabeth Spiro Clark, Chair
PPC International Affairs Task Force 

Pope Francis and the Politics of Liberation

Pope Francis came back home to the Americas by first visiting Cuba and then the United States. It was a much anticipated visit that did not disappoint, as exemplified by the joyful crowds of everyday people as well as the famous who received him. Many of Pope Francis’s words and actions were inspiring to those who hold dear the values of justice and fairness. Yet his visit did disappoint those wishing for more or even different messages. It is this disappointment, however, that we will have to live with and embrace what we can.

Here in Washington, the head of the Holy See spoke truth to power when he addressed a joint session of Congress, a body where Republicans hold majorities in both chambers. Raising the specters of immigration, the death penalty, and climate change, Pope Francis challenged the Congress on its chosen path of failing to seek the common good. Dialogue for achieving progress and peace are what’s missing from our politics—and this lack of engagement is hurting the country and the world, he said. Intriguingly, Dorothy Day, an American woman who founded the Catholic Worker Movement, was held up as a model. “Her social activism, her passion for justice, and for the cause of the oppressed” are what the pope wanted today’s Americans to know about someone who once walked among them not long ago. If only our elected officials were as blessed in spirit as Ms. Day (and, therefore, is it any real wonder that Speaker John Boehner decided to retire so soon after the pope’s address?).

The parts of the papal visit that pique concern are the pope’s canonization of Father Junipero Serra, who helped colonize California, and his private visit with elected Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who is contemptuous of her own civil authority. Both of these acts, along with no outward movement on contraception, can lead one to wonder just how open Pope Francis really is. Yet, it is worth remembering that he is ultimately a religious leader and not a public governmental official and, as such, he can more easily embrace sinners over saints.

Finally, President Obama recognized the power of this pope’s voice by greeting him at Andrews Air Force base when he arrived—a first. Both leaders are disciples of the liberation of people for peace, with the thawing of Cuban relations through diplomacy as a prime example. May this papal visit be the start of a new humanism for a country that considers itself a union of immigrants and a United States of America. May that value be resurrected anew.

Kristin Cabral, Chair
PPC Faith and Values Task Force

Glacier National Park as Climate “Canary”

Author Jean Stewart at Act on Climate Rally 10/2015

Author Jean Stewart at Act on Climate Rally 10/2015

A recent tour of Glacier National Park alerted me to its importance as a predictor of the frightening changes that await us globally if we do not drastically reduce pouring carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

The cliche “canary in the coal mine” applies directly to the situation in Glacier National Park. The temperatures in the Park have risen more than the average temperatures worldwide, bringing about huge changes in the number and size of the Park’s glaciers and snowpack.

The Park once had 150 glaciers but now has only 25 active, moving glaciers, and some of these are already on the verge of becoming stagnant snowfields. Meticulous studies of glaciers conducted by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists show yearly acreage losses twenty percent higher in the last ten years than in the previous decade. Glacier melting has dramatically increased.

Why should this Park’s losses matter?  Because melting is an indicator of our future, with alpine glaciers in the rest of the Rockies, the Cascades, the Andes, the Himalayas, the Alps, and Mount Kilimanjaro in East Africa also suffering severe melts.

Meltwater from these glaciers has historically provided water to surrounding populations for drinking, irrigation, and hydroelectric power. It is estimated that over 50 percent of the world’s population gets its fresh water from glaciers.

Other cascading effects are being seen in the changes in flora and fauna in high mountain areas. Rare and potentially valuable plants and animals adapted to a cold and icy climate cannot migrate upward much further, as they’re already near the tops of the mountains. This problem will reduce species diversity, further damaging the planet’s overall health.

Anyone still inclined to disbelieve the reality of climate change should compare the photographs of Park glaciers in the 1920s and 1930s alongside the photographs taken by the USGS at the exact same locations in the last two or three years. These pictures speak louder than words ever could.

But there are very rich and powerful interests, especially in the fossil fuel industry—the Koch brothers for example—who pour billions into political campaigns and public advertising to distract us from taking any kind of action to reduce this ongoing destruction of our planet.

Fossil fuel industry representatives are even planning to attend the international climate summit in Paris in December!

These huge companies prey on our desires for more jobs and cheap energy and no modifications in our lifestyles. We need to fight back by showing the costs of drought and flooding and shrinking biodiversity. The recent droughts in California and flooding in South Carolina are ready examples of our dangerous refusal to face climate change. We must have safe and abundant and free water. We must go into high alert and demand concrete action from each of our politicians and demand it now!

Jean Stewart
WNDC Energy and Environment Task Force