The Devastation in Louisiana is a Call for Solidarity

Driving around Baton Rouge last Saturday I came upon neighborhood after neighborhood where piles of debris- the deposited guts of homes- line the roadway. You can hear numbers like 60,000 homes flooded but being immersed in it is a different experience. Driving home I listened to a radio interview of a pastor that’s part of the community organizing group, Together Baton Rouge. He emphasized that in the midst of struggle, God is with us. God is with those who are struggling, God is with those coming to the aid of neighbors, and God is with those sending support from far away.

In addition to the flood, Louisiana faces a number of challenges- poverty, fiscal difficulties, and ongoing work for community cohesion and racial healing. Amidst all of this, however, people are resilient. Communities are coming together to help one another. As we continue the long road to recovery and investigate ways to prevent these types of floods in the future, here are a few ways to help:

Nick Albares is a senior policy analyst with the Louisiana Budget Project, working on a range of policies that build shared prosperity and improve the lives of struggling Louisianans.


An End to 50 Years of War in Colombia?

via NY Times:

Colombia’s government and the largest rebel group in the country have reached a deal to end more than 50 years of conflict, the two sides announced Wednesday, paving the way for an end to the longest-running war in the Americas.

For four years, the Colombian government and the rebels have been locked in negotiations. Time and again, they have emerged from the negotiating table to assure a weary public that another impasse had been eliminated, another hurdle cleared.

This time, the two sides declared that a final deal had been clinched.

“Today begins the end of the suffering, the pain and the tragedy of war,” President Juan Manuel Santos said in a nationally televised address after the agreement was announced. “Let’s open the door together to a new stage in our history.”

The agreement, reached in Havana where the talks took place, effectively signifies the end of the last major guerrilla struggle in Latin America.

It outlines a timetable in which the rebels, known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, will abandon their arms. It also sets out a pathway in which former fighters will enter civilian life again — and in some cases, run for office.

But to most Colombians, the deal is simply a promise that the war, which has lasted 52 years, claimed some 220,000 lives and displaced more than five million people, is at last coming to an end.

President Obama on the 25th Anniversary of Ukrainian Independence

“Twenty-five years ago today, Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union.  On behalf of the American people, I’m proud to join the Ukrainian people in marking this historic anniversary.  As we have been reminded in recent years, Ukraine’s path has not always been easy.  From the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who linked arms in a great human chain in 1990 to the fallen heroes of the Maidan, realizing the dream of independence has called on the solidarity and sacrifice of the Ukrainian people.  The people of the United States, including proud Ukrainian-Americans, have been honored to partner with Ukraine on this journey.  Today, we reaffirm that the United States will continue to stand with the Ukrainian people as they protect their sovereignty and territorial integrity, embrace the vision of a strong and united Europe, and deepen their commitment to democracy, anti-corruption, and respect for human rights.  I offer my best wishes to all the people of Ukraine.  On this occasion, we are reminded that even in the most difficult moments, the glory and freedom of Ukraine—and the indomitable spirit of the Ukrainian people—lives on.”

Pope Francis: Life is Not a Video Game or Soap Opera

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, focusing on the door of salvation and the meaning of our lives (via Vatican Radio):

To go along this path, one must pass through a door. But where is the door?  What is it like?  Who is the door?  Jesus himself is the door (cf. Jn 10,9).  He himself says it, ‘I am the door’ in John’s Gospel.  He leads us in communion with the Father, where we find love, understanding and protection. But why is this door narrow? One can ask. Why is it narrow?  It is a narrow door not because it is oppressive – no, but because it asks us to restrict and limit our pride and our fear, to open ourselves with humble and trusting heart to Him, recognizing ourselves as sinners, in need of his forgiveness. For this, it is narrow: to contain our pride, which bloats us.  The door of God’s mercy is narrow but always wide open, wide open for everyone! God has no favorites, but always welcomes everyone, without distinction….

Jesus offers us today, once again, a pressing invitation to go to him, to cross the threshold of a full life, reconciled and happy. He waits for each of us, no matter what sin we have committed, no matter what!  To embrace us, to offer us his forgiveness. He alone can transform our hearts, He alone can give full meaning to our existence, giving us true joy. Upon entering the door of Jesus, the door of faith and of the Gospel, we can leave behind worldly attitudes, bad habits, selfishness and the closing ourselves off. When there is contact with the love and mercy of God, there is real change. And our life is illuminated by the light of the Holy Spirit: an inextinguishable light!…

But if God is good and loves us, why does he close the door – he will close the door at a certain point? Because our life is not a video game or a soap opera; our life is serious and the goal to achieve is important: eternal salvation.

Justice Department Will Stop Use of Private Prisons

via Washington Post:

The Justice Department plans to end its use of private prisons after officials concluded the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision on Thursday in a memo that instructs officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or “substantially reduce” the contracts’ scope. The goal, Yates wrote, is “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”

“They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Yates wrote.

Controversial Execution Looming in Texas

Millennial writer Christopher White has a new article at Crux. He writes:

Later this month, on August 24th, the state of Texas is slated to execute Jeffrey Lee Wood- despite the fact that he has never killed anyone. In fact, according to many accounts, Wood was not even aware that the man’s death for which he is being punished was going to occur. And by all accounts, the execution of an individual who did not directly kill another individual is exceedingly rare.

Tragically, this comes almost a year after Pope Francis called for the abolition of the death penalty in his address to the United States Congress last September, where he praised the U.S. bishops for their efforts in this regard.

Continuing to further this cause, 16 bishops from the state of Texas have co-signed a letter to Governor Greg Abbott pleading that he issue a stay in the case. “Mr. Wood has never taken a human life in his own hands,” the bishops write. “He was not even in the building at the time of the crime. It is extremely rare for any person in the history of the modern death penalty to have been executed with as little culpability and participation in the taking of a life as Mr. Wood.”

Now if you’re just hearing about this case for the first time, you may find yourself scratching your head and wondering how such a strange sentence come about in the first place. In short, it’s the result of an old and peculiar Texas law called the “Law of Parties,” where prosecutors are not required to prove that a defendant was a participant in committing the crime in question-or, for that matter, even intended to participate.

Wood was found guilty for waiting outside a convenience store while another man went inside and shot the clerk. Prosecutors charged that Wood and the other man were in cahoots, but Wood has insisted he didn’t know a crime would be committed and in fact insisted that his friend not bring a gun to the store. The other man, Daniel Reneau, was executed in 2002.

If Wood’s case leaves you bewildered and questioning the aggressiveness in which the state of Texas has traditionally pursued capital punishment cases, then you’re in good company. Yet despite the pleas of the Catholic bishops and other protests on Wood’s behalf, the state of Texas seems intent on pursuing even the most extreme of cases.

You can read the full article, which includes his thoughts on the importance of forgiveness here.