Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

16 posts from December 2007

On the 1st Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

...a bill to help achieve the MDGs! 

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That's right - today (ok, I know it's not the first day of Christmas), Sen. Barack Obama introduced the Senate version of the Global Poverty Act, a piece of legislation that Bread for the World and its partners are very keen on seeing passed.  Essentially, as the link above will tell you, the "GPA" will make it a matter of public policy for the U.S. to do its part in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, among other things.

That makes the timing especially relevant for debate when juxtaposed with this article in today's New York Times (yes, I love reading the New York Times):  U.S. Agency's Slow Pace Endangers Foreign Aid

The front page article details how the bipartisan-supported Millennium Challenge Corporation, which was created by the President to specifically give a vehicle for America's role in helping achieve the MDGs, is in danger of having it's at least half of its money cut "up front" in the future. 

"[MCC] officials and the African leaders they assist said in recent interviews that the change would be a big step backward. American foreign aid often takes the form of modest, short-term projects that are planned in Washington and carried out by American contractors and charities. But under the [MCC's] approach, poor countries with sound economic policies and strong track records of helping their people are chosen to conceive and carry out big undertakings themselves.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation’s budget now makes up less than 10 percent of the United States foreign aid budget."

Furthermore -

"In small, poor countries like Burkina Faso (or Ghana - my note), every burp and hiccup of an aid agency like the Millennium Challenge Corporation is news — and often front page news. David Weld, the agency’s country director for Burkina Faso, said he did not know how he could face people there if Congress did not come through with enough money to help them.

“What type of message does that send to Burkina Faso, a country that has spent a huge amount of political capital and money on this process?” he asked. “What does that tell the Togos, the Nigers that want to become eligible? It tells them: Do everything like Burkina Faso, make all these reforms, spend millions of your own money, and then maybe at the end we might be able to sign a compact with you — or maybe not.”

Read the link above for the full story, and once you do, I hope you'll find this editorial cartoon I found as applicable as I did for what's needed in "keeping the fire lit for the MDGs" - notice that "campaigning" (i.e. advocacy) is one of the supports!


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"the hungry don't have much of a lobby"

Ouch!  That's what I thought when I first read that (subject) line in this otherwise potent and necessary editorial in today's New York Times. 

"Excuse me, New York Times?  Is this seat taken?  Yes, this is Bread for the World, I'd like to introduce myself and some of my friends.  I like long walks in the park, romantic candlelit dinners, and playing ultimate frisbee in my free time...but unfortunately I don't have hardly any free time because all my time is taken up being a hunger lobby."

So said my prideful, bitter inner voice at first.  But then I mulled it over - in a larger sense, whether the Times' Editorial Board has an awareness of Bread for the World (or other anti-hunger lobbyists) or not, they have a point - especially when talking about the farm bill. 

It's a cruel reality that money = what political priorities get passed in...well, the history of humanity.  But human history is also rife with stories of the 'little guy' or the 'right cause' taking precedence because truth spoke to power more compellingly than money ever can (this is getting heavy and deep).  And Bread for the World and its partners often strive to influence change using tools used in the latter tradition:  faith and voice. 

The 2007 farm bill - and the "change in the nature of the debate" that's already happened this year on said bill - is one of those opportunities.  Read the editorial above - even though it's timing might seem pointless giving the "stall" we've been in the past several weeks, there are rumblings coming out of DC that the debate could be renewed any day now and a bill (chock full of opportunities for pro-reform amendments) be passed.  Which means...you guessed it - a perfect opportunity to raise your voice now and this weekend! 

Write a letter to the editor of your newspaper - the timing couldn't be better - learn how and what to say here!  Let your senators know that the hungry have a lobby.  You.

The informed voter

By Megan Marsh - Bread for the World activist - Colorado Springs

I know some of us could care less about politics, but others are really excited for 2008. We're reading blogs. We're listening to podcasts. We're devouring newspapers and news journals. We can't wait to see who our candidates are going to be, locally and nationally, so that we can find out everything there is to know about where they stand on the issues we care about. I'd just like to say that this is something that we don't have to do alone! I'm very blessed to have several friends who are totally willing to go to a campus lecture like this with me (as opposed to the majority of the room who were required by their professor to be there).

I recently attended a lecture at Colorado College by Alan Murray, senior editor of the Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Murray addressed some of the major issues that the presidential candidates are talking about right now, specifically immigration, China (trade issues), income disparity, etc. He stressed the importance of the coming election and the various factors that will play into the candidates’ rankings in the next several months (i.e. recession, sub-prime mortgage crisis, financial institutions, etc.)

Since he was a journalist and not an economist or a politician, he was entertaining. He shared several recycled Leno jokes and an amusing anecdote about an interview with President Clinton in 1997.

He spoke for about 30 minutes and then turned it over to the classroom for people to ask questions for him to address. On the issue of trade, he only mentioned NAFTA once near the beginning and also referenced globalization as a positive force, but with the benefits unequally distributed. When asked about how he sees that inequality affecting extremely poor nations, he agreed that it was an issue but pointed to China as an example of an extremely poor nation that has made great use of free trade to the benefit of her citizens (I've lived in China – though she has benefited greatly from free trade, income and wealth disparity there is a big issue, and a lot of people still live in great poverty).

Colorado College is hosting several lectures in the coming months about the 2008 election. I plan on going to as many as possible, not just to learn more about the issues, but also to learn what my neighbors think about those issues. We all have to come together next November and collectively decide who our leaders are going to be. I think that knowing now what our fellow Americans are thinking (and not just what the political pundits say they are thinking) will help the day after Election Day when half the country wakes up and says "we elected who??!!"

In Anticipation...

- I wrote this reflection for an advent devotional booklet compiled by my church - Pasadena Mennonite Church.  The reflection is based on Psalm 122.

Advent is a time when we are invited to quiet ourselves and enter into the house of Yahweh with a thankful heart.  While some of us may not feel peaceful or thankful, we are encouraged by our community to enter into God’s shalom.  We have a choice: quiet rest in the promise of right relationships with God, friends, family, the earth and our communities or loud confusion in our kingdom of consumption, isolation and apathy.  Psalm 122 recalls the response of a people who embraced God’s shalom.

In the passage, we hear the voices of a community who gladly approaches the thrones of God’s judgment (vs. 6).  When I first read it, I thought, “Why are the people thankful to be judged?” One commentator suggests that the thrones of judgment were a place where conflicts were mediated – where peace prevailed.  While my kingdom of judgment more closely parallels our culture of condemnation and isolation, God’s thrones are sites of reconciliation.  No wonder the people of Israel approached the thrones with awe and thanksgiving – they were eager for reconciliation!  God’s kingdom breaks forth when we seek reconciliation in our world.

I am chastened by the reminder that God’s kingdom joy enters into my life only when I seek God’s reconciling peace over my personal advantage or comfort.  With the words of Psalm 122 the people of Israel prayed for peace in their families, their tribes and their city, Jerusalem.  Am I seeking peace in Pasadena, Los Angeles County and Southern California?  Am I praying for peace in our families and at our church? How can I posture myself in a way that allows the Prince of Peace to prevail in our community?  Encountering our fears and conflicts may not always feel comfortable, but God promises that through reconciliation we will know the hope of God with us.  During Advent, may each of us approach God’s throne of righteous judgment with hopes for reconciliation, offerings of thanksgiving and prayers for peace.

Prayer of Confession - Presbyterian Church USA Advent Resource

God who is with us, and God who is on the way,
we confess that we do not wait or watch for you.
Works of darkness encumber and distract us.
Petty jealousies, hard quarrels, ambitions rooted in selfish desires—
they command our attention.
We have ceased to hope for peace and harmony among the nations
or for security apart from the defenses we construct.
We hear your promises, Lord, but dare not trust them.
God of power and love, awaken us to hope and fit us for your coming,
that we may watch for you with confidence and joy.

Nature's Investment Bank

The Nature Conservancy released a study today about poverty reduction and conservation.  Researchers interviewed over 1,000 people from 3 different countries about the impact of marine protected areas on quality of life and income.  Some villagers saw their income double as a result of conservation efforts.  This is a great example of countries who are working to achieve Millennium Development Goal #7 - ensure environmental sustainability. 

Here is a short clip from the 15 minute documentary based on the study:

Name That Peacenik!

In a speech last week, who said this?

"Consider that this year's budget for the Department of Defense - not counting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan - is nearly half a trillion dollars.  The total foreign affairs budget request for the State Department is $36 billion - less than what the Pentagon spends on health care alone. "

a) Bono
b) Rep. Dennis Kucinich
c) Bread President David Beckmann
d) Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

If you answered "D" then congratulations.  In a speech at Kansas State University last Monday (11/26), Secretary Gates made a strong case for better integrating "soft power" into our strategy to build a safer world. Now don't get me wrong, we are not apologists for the Department of Defense - Gates goes on to say that he is indeed in favor of increased spending on the military. But it is an important signal that even our military now recognizes the common-sense principle that winning hearts and minds requires being a good neighbor. It's not just a moral imperative - it's an important strategic goal in creating a safer world.

The foreign affairs budget number he cites also contains programs that Bread for the World considers "Poverty-Focused Development Assistance" (PFDA).  In next year's Offering of Letters campaign, we will be advocating for a boost to PFDA to meet our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals. An important step in this process in getting a boost will be to increase the foreign affairs budget (aka International Affairs Budget, or IAB) during the formation of a Congressional budget resolution. We welcome Secretary Gates to this debate.

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