Recovery and Reinvestment Act: Where the Money Is Going

President Obama signed the $787 Billion Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law earlier this week. The law marks a monumental shift in how we choose to allocate our resources. We saw the Bush administration pass emergency spending measures to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghansitan time and time again. Then, in the face of the economic crisis, President Bush chose to bailout banks, financial institutions, and insurers. One month into the Obama Administration, his first emergency supplemental will save our schools, environment, and infrastructure, things that benefit every American. Here we take a look at how the bill impacts the UUA’s Legislative Objectives for the 111th Congress. While it advanced many of our objectives, it must be noted that on some issues (immigration and reproductive health), we took some steps backwards. But on the whole, given our objectives, this law is cause for celebration!

Environmental Justice

In 2007, both the Green Jobs Act and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant were made law, but the necessary funding was not appropriated. Times have quickly changed and we see an unprecedented commitment towards green jobs and energy efficiency. The Economic Recovery bill invests $500 million in the Green Jobs Act, an increase of 400% of the original allocation. The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant is getting $3.2 billion, an increase of over 50%. And the Weatherization Assistance Program is getting $5 billion. These investments will create green jobs, creating employment opportunities for unemployed and under-employed workers, as well as reduce the energy costs of low-income families.

Peace

Peacemaking means creating safe places for children everywhere – including the United States.

$54 billion in state fiscal relief to prevent cuts in state aid to school districts, with up to $10 billion for school repair will allow children in the US to learn and grow in healthy and comfortable environments.

Gulf Coast Recovery

$375 million is going to the Army Corps of Engineers to strengthen Mississippi River levees.
$500,000 is going to create an ombudsman for FEMA to arbitrate Rita and Katrina related damages
$100,000 is going to support volunteer efforts for Gulf Coast Recovery through Dept of Labor (Americorps)

Violence Against Womens

The Economic Recovery bill includes $325 million in critical funding for the Violence Against Women Act and the Victims of Crime Act. This money will provide states with grants for doing work to combat domestic violence and help fund transitional housing for survivors of violence. $100 million of this money dedicated to the Victims of Crime Act will create and sustain thousands of jobs for victim advocates and specialized law enforcement officers.

Reproductive Health

However, funding that would have expanded Medicaid coverage to allow more women and families to obtain contraception and family planning services was one of the first things to be cut from the original stimulus package. Women living in poverty are four times more likely to have an unintended pregnancy and five times more likely to have an unintended birth than women who live above the poverty line. The family planning funding in the stimulus plan would have increased the reproductive freedom of thousands of women and saved money on health services due to the consequences of unintended pregnancy in the long run. (From the Claremont Port Side magazine). $87 billion over the course of two years was provided that will protect people who are currently eligible to receive family planning services through Medicaid comprehensive coverage.


Immigration

$720 million is going towards improving security at the border and ports of entry. A significant proportion of that money is going towards the continued construction on the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. This wall is opposed by a broad coalition of immigration activists, environmentalists, ranchers and other property owners, and local governments. Not only does it increase misery and risk of death for undocumented workers, but also for endangered wildlife. The wall should be torn down, not further funded.

For more information on the Recovery and Reinvestment Act and its impact, see the White House’s new website devoted to providing full transparency on the recovery process: recovery.gov.

Changes in Darfur

This past Tuesday, the Sudanese government announced they made a peace agreement with one of the rebel groups in Darfur. In the agreement, members of the rebel organization Justice and Equity Movement (JEM) would be released from prison in return for a complete ceasefire from the JEM.

This is big news as the JEM was one of the many rebel organizations to be left out of a ceasefire agreement made by the Sudanese government last November.

This news comes quickly after an announcement made the International Criminal Court saying the Court had collected enough evidence to possibly try the Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir for crimes against humanity. President Al-Bashir has been implicated in a bloody and brutal six year-long anti-insurgency campaign against rebel groups such as JEM. This campaign has included public murders, rapes, and the displacement of entire villages. Many in the wider global community have said there is no way to characterize this conflict other than genocide. While no arrest warrant for Mr. Bashir has yet been issued, this has added considerable pressure on the Sudanese government to make a timely and sustainable peace agreement with the rebel groups.

Over the past six years, a conservative estimate of 300,000 people have been killed due to the conflict and another 2.7 million people have been displaced, primarily to Chad.

We encourage you to write a letter to President Obama asking him to uphold the commitment he made to Darfur during his presidential campaign. For more information please visit the UUA’s Darfur Action Center.

Statement of Conscience to Be Sent to General Assembly

The UUA Bylaws requires a 25% quorum of congregations to send a Statement of Conscience–a comment on where the UU community stands on a social justice issue–to General Assembly–the annual business meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Association. On Monday, February 2nd, the congregational poll asking whether or not the Statement on Peacemaking should be voted upon at GA closed. A record total of 81% of congregations participated in this poll! The resolution to send the Statement on Peacemaking to General Assembly overwhelmingly passed with over 40% of all congregations approving of the measure compared to the less than 1% who voted it down.

This is a huge success. In the past, less than 10% of congregations have participated in the congregational poll for a Statement of Conscience. Congregations decided how they would vote in the poll in a myriad of ways. Many congregations held congregational meetings to discuss and vote on the measure. Other congregations empowered their social justice teams or ministers to speak on behalf of the congregation.

Feedback was also collected by congregations and delivered to the Commission on Social Witness.
The Commission on Social Witness (the committee that is in charge of the UUA’s social justice statements) will take the results and feedback and edit the draft Statement of Conscience in early March. That draft will be sent to congregations in preparation for the vote at General Assembly.

Statements of Conscience require a 2/3 majority vote to be passed at General Assembly. With almost 40% of congregations supporting the discussion of peacemaking at GA of 2009, this makes the passage of a Statement of Conscience on Peacemaking a real possibility.

If your congregation is not participating in the peacemaking study action issue, it is not too late to begin. You can get more information at uua.org/peacemaking or by emailing peacemaking @ uua.org

Rebirthing King, Rebirthing America

On this past Monday, January 19th, over a thousand people entered All Souls Church, Unitarian, for the Rebirthing King, Rebirthing America celebration hosted by Olive Branch Interfaith Peace Partnership. This event brought together a diverse group of theologians and activists from major American spiritual traditions.

Together, we explored the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 2009. Using his April 4, 1967 speech: Beyond Vietnam, we looked at poverty, oppression and militarism today.

The evening began with a vigil for peace on the front steps of the church. Prayers were offered by Japanese Buddhist monks, Catholics fasting to close Guantanamo, and marriage equality activists.

During the service inside All Souls Church, Unitarian, speakers included:

  • Rev. William G. Sinkford– President of the UUA
  • Rev. Robert Hardies– Senior Minister of All Souls Church, Unitarian
  • Mark Johnson– Director of Fellowship of Reconciliation
  • Samina Faheem Sundas– Founder of Muslim American Voices
  • Rabbi Arthur Wascow– Founder of the Shalom Center
  • Rev. Rita Nakashima Brock– Minister from Disciples of Christ and founder of Axis of Friendship
  • and many others.

The service included music from the Interfaith Children’s Choir and singing from Dr. Ysaye Barnwell–a member of Sweet Honey in the Rock.

The evening was an amazing collection of inspiring speakers– concluding with messages from Rev. Jim Forbes, minister emeritus from New York City’s Riverside Baptist Church (where Dr. King gave the Beyond Vietnam address) , and Dr. Vincent Harding who co-penned the speech with Dr. King.

We learned together that Dr. King’s legacy is still important in an age of President Obama. Poverty, Oppression and Militarism are still prevalent in today’s society. Racism, homophobia, sexism, and the lack of equal opportunities inherent in these systems reinforce a lack of economic stability and reinforce these people as second class citizens. Not only does a military attempt to retain American supremacy and hegemony siphon important funds away from people who need assistance, these second class communities become a surplus of disenfranchised citizens who find their only solution is military service. (This is not to say that all military service people are or see themselves as disenfranchised. Nor is this to say that they are not incredibly brave.)

In order to end poverty, oppression and militarism, we find ourselves obligated to work against all three simultaneously.

For more information on the event and the Olive Branch Interfaith Peace Partnership, please visit olivebranchinterfaith.org

For more photos, visit the Advocacy & Witness facebook page.

Web Banner Campaign for NRCAT

Last spring, thousands of houses of worship and religious spaces–including hundreds of UU churches and fellowships–hung banners outside of their buildings announcing that torture is wrong and immoral. This campaign was organized by the National Religious Coalition Against Torture (NRCAT).

NRCAT is asking religious communities to once again hang their banners to remind the new Congress and Administration that torture is not to be ignored.

But it does not end with churches, mosques, temples and synagogues. Now, you can “hang” a banner on your blog and/or web page.

The two banners look like this–

You can sign up to have the banners on your blog or web site by visiting nrcat.org

For more information on UUs and NRCAT, please see
uua.org– UUs Take a Public Stand on Torture
uua.org
Stop U.S. Sponsored Torture- Action of Immediate Witness
uuworld.org– UU a Leader in Campaign to End US Torture

Iraqi and American Peace Accord On the Move

On Sunday, the Iraqi Executive Cabinet approved a timeline of American withdrawal from Iraq. Of the 28 ministers at the meeting, 27 approved the measure. This overwhelming support for the agreement from the Executive Cabinet marks positive possibilities for the passage of the plan by the Iraqi Parliament some time this week.

The agreement extends the presence of American troops beyond the Dec. 31st expiration date of the UN Resolution 1511. However, it requires a preliminary reduction of American troops on January 1st, 2009. Furthermore, it would put coalition-led missions under the guidance of the Iraqi military.

The time-line for withdrawal would continue in this way:

  • Full withdrawal of American troops from Iraqi cities, villages and towns by July 1, 2009;
  • A complete handover of all military bases to Iraqi military forces by December 1, 2009;
  • A full withdrawal of all American forces from Iraq by December 31st, 2010.

These deadlines are non-negotiable. They will not depend on benchmarks. They will not depend on ground conditions.

The agreement is expected to succeed as the Shi’a and Kurdish blocs have agreed to pass the resolution. The Sunni minority bloc is currently split on the resolution, as many fear it would leave the future of Sunni security at the hands of the Shi’ite majority. The only Minister not to approve the agreement on Sunday belongs to the strongest Sunni party.

There has been much speculation that the Bush Administration has made major concessions in order to get the resolution passed before the transfer of American governance in January. This agreement has been pushed even further up as the Iraqi Parliament prepares to adjourn for the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca for the holiday Eid al-Adha.

There is some disagreement here in the United States on whether or not this agreement would need to be ratified by Congress before it goes into effect. If Congressional review is necessary, it would need to be put on hold until the 111th Congress begins its session. That would mean then-President Obama would have the pleasure to sign the agreement into reality. According to the New York Times and Washington Post, many in the Bush Administration want to skip the Congressional review so that the reduction of troops could begin within the tenure of the Bush Presidency.

If this agreement is passed by the Iraqi Parliament, there will still be a lot of work to do on the part of the peace community. First of all, these deadlines are hard and fast, but the agreement has not been passed yet. And if there is Congressional Review necessary for American participation, we will need to speak to our elected officials to make sure the agreement is ratified.

Furthermore, these deadlines are crucial for the Iraqi people to feel empowered as a sovereign nation. We must keep the Obama administration accountable to the needs and requests of the Iraqi government and military. The deadlines must be respected and honored.

We must also keep our government and military accountable for other military operations we are currently in. We must work with the Afghani government to make sure our withdrawal from their country is timely and accountable to them as well as us.

Finally, after our troops come home, we must continue to support them. We must call for a strengthening of our Veteran’s Affairs as well as improving the physical and emotional services the veterans require. Even after the war is over, we will have over 1.5 million Iraq War veterans to support. This will require extensive physical and emotional rehabilitation as well as giving them concrete job skills to compete in the struggling economy.

Overall, this is an exciting time for the anti-war community and we should not forget to celebrate our successes. With this agreement, the United States is well on the road to a complete and timely withdrawal from Iraq.

December Action of the Month: Pictures of Peace

Throughout the month of December and into 2009, Unitarian Universalist communities across the United States are invited create pictures of peace in intergenerational arts and crafts time. Please use crayons, finger paints, collages, or any other medium to convey your dreams of peace. Congregations are encouraged to hand-deliver the pictures to the office of their local decision makers. The pictures, along with a ministerial cover letter will allow church members to create relationships with their senator and share a dream of peace.

This is an excellent project for Religious Educators to adopt. It gives the opportunity to community members of all ages to learn and teach from one another and be active together. This allows people who usually do not interact with each other (young people and elders) to work together in a spirit of peace and intergenerational dialog.

Now, in the Holiday Season and the beginning of a new Government, Unitarian Universalists will share the opportunity to imagine that world of peace and justice. Please join us as families, friends and members of a religious community to develop pictures of peace for the future.

Now is also a crucial time for Unitarian Universalism as a movement. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is currently exploring what UU peacemaking looks like. Congregations are urged to read and discuss the rough draft for the Statement of Conscience on Peacemaking. This document, to be voted upon by General Assembly in June 2009, aims to be a comprehensive, dynamic and prophetic vision of what UU peacemaking could look like. Please review the document with the intention of giving feedback to the UUA by February, 2009.

We encourage you and your community to participate in this conversation by downloading the rough draft of the Statement of Conscience on Peacemaking and sharing your feedback. This year, the Commission on Social Witness requires at least 25% of UU congregations approve of the Statement of Conscience being voted upon by the General Assembly. Your congregational feedback helps us reach that crucial goal. Congregational feedback opens *Tomorrow* at http://dyn.uua.org/congregation/.

For more information on the project along with resources on how to organize an in-district lobby visit and UU peacemaking, please visit http://www.uua.org/socialjustice/actioncenter/121437.shtml

The Roadmap for Peace


The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations recently endorsed an initiative spearheaded by the American Friends Service Committee called The Roadmap for Peace. Over 30 national organizations have joined together to call on the next U.S. President and administration to engage in a new foreign policy based on these five core principles.

  1. Our nation should invest in peace.

    Our country should invest in diplomacy, development, and conflict prevention — cost-effective ways to improve national and global security.

  2. Strengthen the civilian agencies that work on peace and development issues.

    The military is not an effective relief agency. The government needs a strong civilian foreign assistance and crisis response team.

  3. Give diplomacy a chance.

    With a highly skilled diplomatic corps, the United States can prevent conflict and restore its international reputation.

  4. Be a part of global peacebuilding efforts.

    We must work with renewed commitment in international institutions and partners to address major global conflicts and challenges, such as nonproliferation, climate change, migration, public health, and poverty.

  5. Create justice through good development and trade policies.

You can join the UUA and the AFSC by personally endorsing the Roadmap for Peace.

Sinkford, Ahmadinejad, and the Blogosphere

UUA President William Sinkford’s participation in a meeting between 150 leaders in the U.S. peace and anti-war community and President Ahmadinejad of Iran has provoked intense reactions in the UU blogosphere. Some blog posts were highly critical and angry, while others felt Sinkford’s participation in the meeting was courageous and perhaps even prophetic. A summary of UU blog posts can be found in this week’s uuworld.org “Interdependent Web” column.

Before deciding to participate in the meeting, Rev. Sinkford asked the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), the organization facilitating the meeting, for assurances that a wide range of groups, including Jewish groups, had been invited to participate. The process of reaching out to those communities has been spelled out by the lead organizer of the meeting, Mark Johnson of the FOR.

The FOR blog contains reflections of others who attended this meeting as well discussion of Rev. Sinkford’s participation. One member of the UU delegation, Helen Lindsay, traveled to Iran earlier this year and has written about what that experience taught her.

The UUA’s Advocacy and Witness Staff Group has chosen to promote the issue of diplomacy with Iran as its Action of the Month for October, and we are inviting UUs to Publish for Peace. While there seems to be a consensus that military action against Iran would be a bad idea, there is considerable difference of opinion about how citizens and political leaders should engage with Iran and its leadership. We welcome a spirited exchange of ideas regarding how both religious and national leaders decide on participation in meetings like this one.

This is an excellent time to write a letter-to-the-editor or an op-ed and to get our views before a larger audience. You can find all the resources you need to get started at www.uua.org. If you draft a letter, please let us know by emailing it (published or not) to the Washington Office’s Legislative Assistant for International Issues at LA_International@uua.org.

Troop Withdrawal by 2011?

U.S. and Iraqi negotiators are making progress in determining the future presence of U.S. troops in Iraq. Negotiations began in March, with the U.S. proposing an agreement that lacked a timeline for withdrawal and included complete immunity for U.S. troops and contractors. The Iraqis responded by declaring that negotiations were at a dead end. This resulted in the U.S. making some concessions and five months later negotiators appear near agreement on a 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops. While the agreement is not complete, it marks a definite step towards a new future in Iraq.

The preliminary terms of the agreement are being brought before the Iraqi executive council and will ultimately have to be approved by the Iraqi parliament. Currently there is nothing requiring the U.S. Administration to get approval from Congress for a security agreement. Sen. Biden has introduced legislation that would change that, by requiring Congressional approval of any security agreement with Iraq. [Click here to call on your Senators to join Sen. Biden]

Unitarian Universalists have been praying and protesting this war since before it began. After five years of an immoral occupation, this development offers a flicker of hope for the futures of the U.S. and Iraq.

UUA Advocacy Against the War