This page indexes items from 2007
2005 - 2006 >>
through 2001 >>
Rise in global food prices cause for alarm
Presbyterian Hunger Program encourages donor nations to
address problems with trade policies, neglect
January 19, 2011 — Food prices around the world are at record
highs, leading to tension and violence reminiscent of 2008, when
high prices led to dozens of food rebellions.
“We are alarmed
at the rising prices. If they continue to rise, the numbers of
hungry people too will rise,” said Ruth Farrell, coordinator of
the Presbyterian Hunger Program.
Meat and sugar
prices are especially high. Rice and wheat prices are not as
high as they were in 2008, but bad weather could cause a spike.
Corn prices, which have risen sharply, are the exception due in
part to U.S. policies supporting corn-based ethanol. The
Environmental Protection Agency could reduce pressure on corn
(and meat, as livestock is a major consumer of corn) prices by
suspending the biofuel mandate.
States and other donor nations must come through on their
promises to increase funding for agriculture in Africa and other
places where family farmers have been hurt by trade policies and
neglect both by domestic governments and international
development over the past decades,” Farrell said.
Ask Your Representative to
Co-Sponsor the Jubilee Act Today
Witness in Washington Weekly, published by the Washington Office
of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on December 29, 2009
The Jubilee Act for Responsible Lending and
Expanded Debt Cancellation (HR 4405) cancels impoverished
country debt, prohibits harmful economic and policy conditions
on debt cancellation, mandates transparency and responsibility
in lending from governments and international financial
institutions, and calls for a U.S. audit of debts resulting from
odious and illegitimate lending.
The bill was introduced on December 17, 2009
with strong bi-partisan support. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), the
bill's lead sponsor, was joined by original co-sponsors Rep.
Barney Frank (D-MA), Chairman of the House Financial Services
Committee, and Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), the committee's
Ranking member. Other original co-sponsors include Rep. Judy
Biggert (R-IL), Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Rep. Luis V.
Gutiérrez (D-IL), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Rep. Donald Payne
(D-NJ), and Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR).
Send a message to your Member of Congress today to urge
him/her to be an early co-sponsor!
The passage of the Jubilee Act in Congress
will urge the Obama Administration to make a new deal on debt in
which poor countries have a chance to fight poverty instead of
paying off huge debts.
The reintroduction of the Jubilee Act of 2009
will expand eligibility for 100 percent debt cancellation
without harmful economic conditions to 65 impoverished countries
in the Global South.
To help ensure passage of the Act, join
USA's Change Not Chains Campaign.
General Assembly Guidance:
The 211th General
Assembly (1999) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to:
2. Endorse and
support the Jubilee 2000 campaign, which calls for the
definitive cancellation of international debt in situations
where countries with high levels of human need and environmental
distress are unable to meet the needs of their people in a way
that benefits ordinary people and facilitates their
participation in the processes of debt relief and setting
priorities in ways that do not perpetuate or deepen poverty,
which acknowledges the responsibility of all parties, and which
is transparent and participatory in order to prevent recurring
cycles of indebtedness.
3. Call upon
presbyteries and congregations of the Presbyterian Church
(U.S.A.) to support the goals of the Jubilee 2000 efforts by
sending statements of support to key policy makers in the U.S.
government and multilateral lending agencies.
appropriate program areas (Hunger Program, Peace Program,
Women's and Men's ministries, Worldwide Ministries Division,
etc.) to give leadership for education and mobilization to
promote awareness and action concerning the need for debt relief
for impoverished countries, including the preparation of a study
guide for congregational use by the 211th General Assembly
For some earlier background
discussion of the idea of Jubilee and justice >>
passage of an earlier legislative action >>
Increase in U.S. hunger spurs faith groups' reaction
Direct relief, systemic changes are needed,
says director of Presbyterian Hunger Program
by Bethany Furkin, Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE - This week, the U.S. Department of
Agriculture reported that 17 million American households (49
million people, or 14.6 percent of the population) were food
insecure in 2008, the highest number since the government began
tracking food insecurity in 1995.
The number of children affected by hunger also
increased, according to the report. In 2008, 506,000 households
(1.3 percent of households with children) experience very low
food security. This was up from 323,000 households (0.8 percent
of households with children) in 2007. ...
For the Presbyterian Hunger Program, these
numbers reflect a "tragic reality," given that the United States
produces more than enough food for everyone, said Ruth Farrell,
coordinator of the program.
"Hunger is a complex phenomenon with economic,
political and social causes," she said. "Congregations feed
hungry people in their neighborhoods, but month after month,
many of the same people and new ones will line up for help.
Jesus responded with compassion to those in need and at the same
time questioned the very structures that caused inequities. Be
it greed, ignorance, historical reasons, wastefulness, climate
change or unjust market systems, we cannot tolerate hunger."
Largely funded by the One Great Hour of
Sharing special offering, the hunger program supports
congregations working to respond to hunger holistically.
Farrell urged congregations to inventory their
hunger and poverty ministries to assess whether programs both
alleviate hunger and try to attack root causes underlying
hunger. For assistance or discussion, contact the hunger program
at (888) 728-7228 x5388 or by email.
full story >>
|We care about social justice, right?
Well, try the Social Justice Quiz 2008
Bill Quigley, a human rights lawyer and law
professor at Loyola University New Orleans, offers a little quiz to
see how much we see the issue through the eyes of those who have
much less that most of us.
He introduces the quiz:
We in the US who say we believe in social
justice must challenge ourselves to look at the world through
the eyes of those who have much less than us. Why? Social
justice, as defined by John Rawls, respects basic individual
liberty and economic improvement. But social justice also
insists that liberty, opportunity, income, wealth and the other
social bases of self-respect are to be distributed equally
unless an unequal distribution is to everyone's advantage and
any inequalities are arranged so they are open to all.
Therefore, we must educate ourselves and
others about how liberty, opportunity, income and wealth are
actually distributed in our country and in our world.
The first two questions:
1. How many deaths are there worldwide each
year due to acts of terrorism?
Answer: The US State Department reported there
were more than 22,000 deaths from terrorism last year. Over half of
those killed or injured were Muslims. Source: Voice of America, May
2, 2008. "Terrorism Deaths Rose in 2007."
2. How many deaths are there worldwide each
day due to poverty and malnutrition?
A: About 25,000 people die every day of hunger
or hunger-related causes, according to the United Nations.
Poverty.com - Hunger and World
Poverty. Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related
causes - one child every five seconds. Bread for the World. Hunger
Try the quiz for yourself, and see what you might learn.
When Is Growth a Good
Distributive Justice in the
Age of Globalization
by Gene TeSelle,
Witherspoon Issues Analyst
additional look at the growing rich-poor gap in a global
perspective. (The current issue of Network News
focuses on that, but we ran out of time and space to include
this important ...)
There are some who think that government should never interfere
with the operations of the market but simply let the "invisible
hand" work its magic. But it is obvious that wealth carries with
it the power to affect the market in important ways. And
governments often reinforce the influence of private wealth. So
there are many others who think that government has an
obligation not only to stop favoring the most powerful but to
create a regulatory framework that will encourage the market to
act in constructive ways. But what considerations should shape
In recent decades
there has been much discussion of John Rawls' A Theory of
Justice (1971), and specifically of his "difference
principle": inequities of distribution are justified only if
they benefit those who are least favored. This is a restatement
of the older notion of "Pareto efficiency" or "Pareto
optimality," a distribution which should not be changed to make
some better off if it will make others worse off.
This has recently
been put to practical use by Thomas Pogge, a German who received
his Ph.D. at Harvard under Rawls, taught in Australia, taught
more recently at Columbia, and is now at Yale. He has written
several books about Rawls and his theory of justice. Recent
publications include World Poverty and Human Rights
(2002) and Global Institutions and Responsibilities:
Achieving Global Justice (2005).
Most recently he
published an article on "Growth and Inequality" in the global
economy. (It can be
accessed online in Dissent Magazine).
Picking up on a point made in The Economist, he noted
that economic growth is benefiting China and India more than
other countries. At first glance this seems to mean that large
numbers of poor people are benefiting from that growth. But he
points out that the statistics ignore the profits that leave
these countries and go into the pockets of foreign investors.
Even more important, they fail to ask how the profits are
distributed within those countries.
Pogge then looks at figures on economic
inequality in a wide range of countries. He divides their
populations into "deciles" (tenths of the total population) and
charts their relative share of per capita income. Japan and the
Scandinavian countries have the least inequality. But in many
countries — oil-rich Nigeria and Angola as well as the U.S. and
China — disparities have increased dramatically in recent
If the lower "deciles" in these countries had
simply maintained their proportion of total income, their
economic situation would have improved, and they would have been
spared the marginalization and loss of power that they have
experienced. Globally, he finds that doubling the wealth of the
bottom 40 percent would take only 1.55 percent of the
wealth of the top 1 percent. Doubling the wealth of the
bottom 80 percent would take only 15.3 percent of the wealth
of the top 1 percent.
So he concludes
that the problem of world poverty "is both amazingly small and
amazingly large." Raising the world's population above the World
Bank's poverty level of $2 a day would cost $300 billion
annually, less than 1 percent of the global product, less than
what the U.S. spends just on on its military. But it would do
much to alleviate death, disease, and suffering worldwide.
emphasize the positive obligation to help others in need, or the
negative obligation of "Pareto optimality" not to make their
situation worse, it turns out to be a cost-effective way to meet
the minimal demands of distributive justice.
The Reverend Dr. King’s Last
Issue – Wage Justice
from the Witness in Washington Weekly,
published by the Washington Office of the Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.), January 14, 2008
NOTE: The forthcoming issue of Witherspoon’s Network News
will focus on just this issue, within a the wider
concern for the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor
in the US and around the world, under the title of “The
Other Inconvenient Truth.” We will post it here (in PDF
format) as soon as it comes off the press.
As we prepare to honor the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
this weekend, the year 2008 is important for remembering this
prophet of our time. This year is the forty-fifth anniversary of
Dr. King’s now famous, “I Have a Dream” speech. The year 2008 is
also fortieth anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, of his
last speech, of his last march.
In 1963, the Reverend Dr. King led the March
on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and stood in front of the
Lincoln Memorial to deliver his “I Have a Dream” address. A key
demand of the march was “a national minimum wage act that will
give all Americans a decent standard of living.” Certainly, Dr.
King did not dream that the value of the minimum wage would be
lower today than it was in 1963.
In March and April of 1968, nearly forty years
ago, the Reverend Dr. King was marching with the striking
sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn. The paramount issue of that
march was wage justice – a fair wage for a day’s work. On March
18, 1968, at the historic Memphis rally, Dr. King said, “It is
criminal to have people working on a full-time basis . . .
getting part-time income. We are tired of working our hands off
and laboring every day and not even making a wage adequate with
daily basic necessities of life.”
The year 2008 is an important anniversary for
wage justice issues. This is the seventieth anniversary of the
enactment of the very first minimum wage, with the Fair Labor
Standards Act of 1938. This is the fortieth anniversary of the
highest value of the minimum wage, when the 1968 wage floor
reached a value of $9.60 per hour in 2007 dollars.
On March 31, 1968, on Palm Sunday in the
National Cathedral in Washington, DC, Dr. King said, "this is
America's opportunity to help bridge the gap between the haves
and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it.
There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now
have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The
real question is whether we have the will." Today, the
unconscionable gap between the haves and have-nots is
significantly wider than it was then. The minimum wage, which
was worth $9.60 in 1968 (in 2007 dollars), is an impoverishing
The year 2008 is a sad year for wage justice
issues, for even though the federal minimum wage was increased
last year for the first time in ten years, it remains shockingly
inadequate as a wage to provide low-wage workers with a
livelihood. Families continue to choose between health insurance
and grocery bills, paying for gas to drive to work or paying for
rent to stay in their homes. On July 24, 2007, the minimum wage
increased from $5.15 to $5.85 per hour. On July 24, 2008, it
will increase to $6.55 and on to $7.25 a year later in 2009,
falling shamefully short of Dr. King’s dream, and the value of
the 1968 wage which, even then, was not adequate to keep people
out of poverty.
The year 2008 is, lastly, a hopeful year for
wage justice issues. We observe a federal holiday in honor of
Dr. King and pray that his message of justice for workers will
be remembered as we read and listen to his sermons this weekend.
People all across the country will advocate at all levels of
government for living wages, not just minimum wages, and will
seek to build the “will” of which Dr. King spoke. This year is a
great building year for wage justice issues.
So, as we observe the Reverend Dr. King’s
birthday this weekend, let us consider a commitment in 2008 to
wage justice issues. Visit
http://www.letjusticeroll.org/ for more information on
minimum and living wage campaigns and to find one near your
home, and visit
http://capwiz.com/pcusa/dbq/officials/ to send a message to
your legislators that we must do better for low-wage workers in
General Assembly Guidance:
The 217th General Assembly (2006) of the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) wished to “communicate to all
members of Congress its desire that legislation to increase the
minimum wage be swiftly passed and at least reflect the increase
in the cost of living since the last minimum wage increase in
1997, with the goal of a wage level sufficient to lift full-time
workers out of poverty. Additionally, middle governing bodies,
local congregations, and individuals are encouraged to support
efforts to increase the minimum wage at federal, state, and
local levels as well. Presbyterians are also encouraged to take
advantage of the resources and advocacy opportunities of the
National Council of
Churches’ Let Justice Roll campaign.
Resources for this article were adapted from the
Let Justice Roll Living
US income gap widens, income share of the richest hits
The gap between America’s richest and poorest
is at its widest in at least 25 years, with the wealthiest
taking home a record share of the nation’s income that exceeds
even the previous high in 2000.
According to recent data from the Internal
Revenue Service, the richest 1 percent of Americans earned 21.2
percent of all U.S. income earned in 2005. That is a significant
increase from 2004 when the top 1 percent earned 19 percent of
the nation’s income.
See the Reuters report on CommonDreams >>
On economic ... justice?
2005 incomes, on average, still below 2000 peak
The New York Times reported on August 21 that the latest
government statistics indicate that "Americans earned a smaller
average income [per capita] in 2005 than in 2000, the fifth
consecutive year that they had to make ends meet with less money
than at the peak of the last economic expansion." And this
occurred while many Americans were having to pay a greater share
of their health care costs, and found their retirement benefits
being reduced as well.
A few other bits of information:
The growth in total incomes was concentrated among those
making more than $1 million. The number of such taxpayers
grew by more than 26 percent, to 303,817 in 2005, from
239,685 in 2000. These individuals, who constitute less than
a quarter of 1 percent of all taxpayers, reaped almost 47
percent of the total income gains in 2005, compared with
The article >>
|The Minimum Wage
increase starts today ...
but it’s not much
The Presbyterian Washington Office
puts this adjustment in perspective, and suggests urging Congress to
work toward a more just minimum wage.
The Minimum Wage Increase Starts Today
"You shall not withhold the wages of poor and
needy labourers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in
your land in one of your towns." –
On July 24, 2007, the federal minimum wage will
increase for the first time in ten years, from $5.15 an hour to
$5.85. This increase is the result of a federal minimum wage
increase that was passed by Congress in May and signed into law by
the President 60 days ago. This desperately needed raise will take
effect over 2 years, increasing to $6.55 on July 24, 2008, and again
to $7.25 on July 24, 2009.
The federal minimum wage has been stagnant at
$5.15 an hour for ten years, over which its real value has dropped
over $1.30, so this increase represents a desperately needed
increase for low-wage workers. This raise will make a huge
difference in the lives of millions of workers whose annual
before-tax income will increase by more than $1,400. This new
minimum wage, however badly needed, still falls far short of the
mark and does little to help the working poor climb out of poverty.
In 1988, the 200th General Assembly of the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) "urge[ed] the President and Congress of
the United States to raise the minimum wage to its historical level
of 50 percent of the average non-supervisory, nonagricultural wage
and provide for regular increases that will keep the minimum wage at
an adequate level to lift people out of poverty"(Minutes,
1988, p.364). The "average non-supervisory, nonagricultural wage"
has been falling over the last two decades, as the value of the
minimum wage has decreased, and dragged down the overall average.
However, even given this decline in real value, according to the
Bureau of Labor Statistics’ "Employment Situation: June 2007"
report, the average non-supervisory, nonagricultural wage last month
was $17.38. If the 1988 General Assembly policy were applied, the
minimum wage LAST MONTH would have been $8.69 an hour, not $7.25 in
This wage increase is an important first step
toward making sure that workers have enough to support their
families, but it is obviously an inadequate wage with which to
support a family, or even a single household. As the costs of
housing, health care, transportation, fuel and food all continue to
rise, most workers’ wages have not, and families must increasingly
rely on services like housing assistance and food banks to
supplement their inadequate income, and on emergency rooms to
provide health care because insurance is not affordable.
A vision of the common good and a just society
demands that all people have the right to work for living wages, not
poverty wages. The federal minimum wage has too long kept U.S.
workers living in poverty, not climbing out of it. Click
http://capwiz.com/pcusa/dbq/officials/ to send a message
to your members of Congress calling for a just minimum wage.
Talking Points for your Message:
|I write as a person of faith to congratulate
Congress on passing the first minimum wage increase in 10 years,
and to further call on you to pass a federal minimum wage that
will help workers climb out of poverty, not trap them and their
families in it. |
|I believe that it is our responsibility as a
society to ensure that all people are able to make a decent
living to support themselves and their families. |
|Families will never climb out of poverty, and
we will never reduce the need for government-sponsored
human-needs programs, unless workers earn enough to pay for
housing, health care, food, fuel and all the other basic
|The minimum wage increase that is taking
effect this summer is an important first step, but still falls
far short of the mark of reducing poverty. |
|The current minimum wage will increase this
summer for the first time in ten years, but the increase is so
small and the action comes so late, that workers require much
more to ensure a wage that they deserve. |
|I call on you to support a federal minimum
wage that will keep workers out of poverty, not keep them in it.
|There is still work to be done. Please do not
let this small increase distract you from accomplishing an
adequate wage for low-wage workers.|
The Witness in Washington Weekly is published weekly by the
Washington Office, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 100 Maryland
Avenue, NE Washington D.C. 20002, (202) 543-1126
www.pcusa.org/washington. For more information about the
content of this article, please email us at
firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to receive
this information directly, please go to
Two calls for
a "New Marshall Plan"
Cornell president and Network of Spiritual Progressives both urge this
big step forward [6-7-07]
Witherspooner Betty Hale recently told us of the commencement address by
Cornell's president, David Skorton, calling for the creation of a "New
Marshall Plan" to alleviate the gaps between rich and poor nations, and much
more. He urges universities to spearhead this move, using their
capacities for research and innovation to benefit a world in crisis.
At the same time, the Network of Spiritual Progressives is putting forth
a similar call, rooted not in academia but in the growing conviction among
people of faith that the world must begin learning to operate on the basis
of generosity rather than selfishness and fear of the other.
IMF faces confidence crisis
While leaders of the World Bank debate what to do with
Paul Wolfowitz, their embattled president, the IMF and World Bank are facing
a deeper challenge , which the think-tank
Foreign Policy in Focus calls a "confidence crisis." The essay
governments, represented at the meeting by Finance Ministers and Central
Bank Governors) that the institution should continue to exist.
As International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank officials engage in
their joint semi-annual meetings in Washington, the Fund has a nettlesome
new task: convincing its shareholders (most of the world
After some 30 years of making "bail-out"
to indebted and impoverished countries in return for their adherence to a
long list of neo-liberal economic reforms–trade
and investment deregulation, privatization, tightening access to credit,
and rapid budget cuts and public-sector layoffs, to name a few–the
IMF has been confronting a crisis of confidence for the past two years.
Demand for its services has been shrinking. Its reputation has never
recovered from its disastrous interventions in the East Asian and
Argentinean financial crises (1997-1998 and 2001-2002 respectively).
The full essay >>
Some blogs worth visiting
Mitch Trigger, PVJ's
Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where
Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and
views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both
personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!
You can post your own news and views,
or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.
for Life" website
Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck,
a Presbyterian minister currently
serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton,
Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized
and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and
Click here for his blog posts.
Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores
the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."
John Harris’ Summit to
Theological and philosophical
reflections on everything between summit to shore, including
kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology,
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens
neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City
Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon
board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in
Voices of Sophia blog
Heather Reichgott, who has created
this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:
After fifteen years of scholarship
and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the
voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy,
students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers
and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God
in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God
through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through
articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and
Got more blogs to recommend?
send a note, and we'll see what we can do!