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Torture is a Moral Issue

Torture is not just a national security issue. It's a moral issue.

FCNL has embarked on a campaign with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) to end US-sponsored torture forever. Because we're not just talking about national security, we're talking about human lives and human dignity.

Torture dehumanizes both perpetrators and victims. We, as members of a society whose government has tortured, are also caught up in this web. We are called to take a stand.

Now, we're asking you to take one step to join us.

Ask your meeting or church to endorse a Commission of Inquiry. A Commission of Inquiry would be independent. It would gather the facts and make recommendations about how to ensure that the United States never again engages in torture.

In order to educate your community about the importance of eradicating US-sponsored torture, you could show them the Campaign's 20-minute video, "Ending US-Sponsored Torture Forever." I've included the trailer here.

Torture is a moral issue, and it is always wrong. Help us to spread the word.

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Bi-partisan bill introduced to reauthorize special diabetes program for Indians!

Just a few days ago, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) introduced a bill to reauthorize a special diabetes program for Indians (SDPI) for another five years. Nearly one in five American Indians and Alaska Natives has diabetes and it is a leading cause of illness and death. I've heard the words "diabetes" and "epidemic" used in the same sentence in reference to Indian Country more times than I can count since coming to work at FCNL.

The proposed legislation, S. 3058, would also increase funding from $150 million per year to $200 million per year for the SDPI. This would be an important step in the right direction of providing increased funding for Indian health care, which currently lags far behind the health care most people in this country experience.

Another thing that makes this bill exciting is that it was introduced with a very bipartisan set of consponsors, including 8 Democrats and 8 Republicans. According to the National Indian Health Board press release, "The SDPI supported programs have resulted in a decrease of 13% in the mean blood sugar level (AIC), which translates to a 40% reduction in diabetes-complications.

Please consider writing to your senators asking them to co-sponsor this bill. You can also write your representative regarding the corresponding House bill.

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Climate Induced Migration: Don't Overreact

On Monday, I attended an event at the Center for American Progress (CAP) on the global implications of climate induced migration. For the past several months, I have been researching the intersection between climate change and preventing deadly conflict, an interdisciplinary area in its infancy. The panel at this event included a representative from the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Conflict Management and Mitigation (CMM) office, an Oxfam representative, and a migration specialist. I was impressed at the diversity of perspectives represented and that finally many of these issues (conflict prevention, humanitarian assistance, and migration) are being brought together into one conversation with a collaborative goal of presenting a nuanced and perceptive picture of how climate change will affect social dynamics across the globe.

Climate change advocates and migration experts have long been skeptical of one another. Migration scholars resent that many environmental groups have used a dramatized threat of “climate migration” to drum up support for their cause, while inadvertently demonizing migrants. Conversely, environmental groups often feel that migration studies discount the effects of climate and environmental change and that it would be possible to attribute much of the migration in the past several decades (at least partially) to climate change. Thankfully, some of this animosity seems to be thawing as people realize that all these issues are interconnected and action is dependent on understanding how.

Susan Martin, the climate specialist, mentioned four ways that climate change and migration interact:

1. Desertification and increasingly long drought seasons push people out of their homelands (a relatively slow migratory pattern).
2. Rising seal levels will force people to relocate (slow).
3. More frequent and intense natural disasters induce displacement and people often never return to their original homes (this results in quick, mass migration-- we are seeing more of it already).
4. Competition over resources leads to conflicts, displacement (this could be large scale, and is the scariest option in many ways).

She also provided a lot of hope, though. She mentioned that remittances from migrants back to their home countries far outweighs any government or foreign commitments and that if that resource stream could be tied to adaptation projects it would be a tremendous resource. The entire panel also reiterated that often the very necessity of sharing resources means that there is increased cooperation about things like water rights. Cooperating on environmental issues can then begin to break down other barriers, such as ethnic, religious or political differences. Perhaps the very direness of the situation will force humanity to become more peaceful and cooperative.

I was also heartened to hear that both Oxfam and USAID are building a consciousness of environmental change into their projects and that everyone is taking this issue seriously. The common wisdom on the connection between climate change and conflict is that a changing climate multiplies other factors that lead to fragile and failing states, such as poverty, weak governance, and economic instability. Therefore it is essential that climate change be part of any conversation happening in the State Department, USAID, and even the military. It also means that FCNL’s climate and peaceful prevention of deadly conflict programs are more closely linked that we often think.

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One of the many things that sets FCNL apart from the rest

I think I could go on for a while about all the things that sets FCNL apart. FCNL's beautiful, green building, its location just four blocks from the Capitol, the wonderful and energetic FCNL Staff, and of course, the historic, powerful witness FCNL provides in Washington.

Something less well known but equally as impressive is the process in which FCNL decides what legislative priorities to work on. This biannual process involves asking Quaker meetings and churches all over the country to engage in worshipful discernment to determine what they feel are the most important legislative priorities for FCNL to focus on in the coming session of Congress. These priorities are within the wider context of FCNL's policy statement and the four "we seeks".

All of the responses are worshipfully considered by FCNL's policy committee, a smaller body of twelve members appointed from FCNL's General Committee. Out of the responses, the policy committee, takes the "sense of the responses" and put them into a document that is presented to FCNL's governing body, the General Committee. This body meets in November where they also examine and worshipfully consider the statement created by the policy committee. The approved document becomes FCNL's legislative priorities for the coming congress. See FCNL's legislative priorities for the current congress.

Yes, this is somewhat of a slow and complicated process for an organization to decide what legislation priorities to focus on, as the process goes from one body of Quakers, to another body of Quakers to another body, and happens over the course of almost a year….however, partly due to this long, and laborious process, I believe it is an incredibly powerful and unique experience.

It can be a powerful process for the individual, for the Friends community, and for FCNL. The process presents a unique opportunity for Friends to ask themselves deep questions within the context of the wider world of Friends. What do I believe are the most pressing national legislative issues? What issues do I feel called to work on? As a community, what local or national issues do we feel called to work on? What is our group's role within the wider world of Friends?

The opportunity lies in engaging in serious discernment as a meeting, which helps individual and collective witness to grow. Often Friends feel a call to further work as a community, whether at a local or national level. Overall, Friends have the opportunity to feel more connected to each other, to become more connected with FCNL's work and feel more connected with the wider world of Friends.

Not only is it beneficial on the local level, but FCNL's work finds increased grounding and spiritual depth through this process. The more diverse responses FCNL's receives the richer FCNL's work becomes. There is no other process like this among Friends. It is corporate discernment on a large scale, connecting Friends of all branches and theological backgrounds for a common purpose. How is the Religious Society of Friends called to witness in Washington? How is the Religious Society of Friends called to change federal policy for the common good?

If you belong to a Quaker meeting or church, and your community has not engaged in the priority process this year, I strongly encourage you to do so.

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Something to Read: the "Interfaith Amigos" of Yes! Magazine

For a while now, one of my favorite sources of interesting and sometimes challenging information has been Yes! Magazine. Their tagline is, "Powerful Ideas, Practical Actions" and I've certainly always found something to like in their publication and on their website.

Yesterday I took a look at their site and was happy to see that they have a new article posted by the "Interfaith Amigos" Rabbi Ted Falcon, Pastor Don Mackenzie, and Sheikh Jamal Rahman who have been working, writing, and learning together since 2001. This new article, "Head, Heart, and Hands: Breaking the Cycle of Religious Fear" by Sheikh Jamal Rahman addresses many issues and can certainly be related to FCNL's work as well as the Epistle Encouraging Quaker Engagement with American Muslims that the General Committee approved during the 2009 Annual Meeting.

If you're looking for ways to encourage interfaith dialouge, the "Interfaith Amigos" seems like a good place to start!

Happy reading.

In peace,


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"Rising Defense Budgets are Not a New Law of Physics"

This was the message from Dr. Cindy Williams in her testimony in the Senate Budget Committee today at a hearing entitled: "Defense Budget and War Costs: An Independent Look." Another witness, Dr. Gordan Adams, stated explicitly: "...the defense budget should not be exempt from a freeze."

In his opening statement, Chairman Conrad (ND) pointed out that Defense spending is taking an ever-growing portion of federal government spending; it is higher in the President's budget request for FY2011 than peaks during the Reagan build-up, the Korean War and the Vietnam war.

The Our Nation's Checkbook campaign led by FCNL, has been working to change this imbalance in spending. We, along with organizers around the country and a coalition of national organizations, are pushing for hearings in the House and Senate Budget Committees on spending priorities, recognizing that the budget committees are really the place where spending priorities are set. Today's hearing was not the hearing we asked for, but it was certainly a step in the right direction.

Chairman Conrad (ND) recognized the critical responsibility of the budget committees, saying: "This is the Budget Committee and we have a responsibility to take the President's budget request and rework it and turn it into a budget resolution that considers all the trade-offs that we confront." Dr. Adams pointed out the risks of a rising defense budget very clearly: "An unconstrained defense budget is likely to make draconian choices in all other areas of discretionary spending necessary." As the Pentagon budget increases, other spending priorities are being squeezed.

Human needs, the environment and efforts to prevent war are absolutely essential to create real security in this nation and around the world. These priorities cannot take back seat to more Pentagon and war spending. As evidenced by the hearing today, there is a growing movement even within Congress to reevaluate Pentagon spending. Check out recent Our Nation's Checkbook successes and join the campaign to reprioritize federal government spending by emailing Stephen at stephen@fcnl.org.

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Olympics Edition Post

I love the Olympics. I love parking myself in front of the TV and watching the Summer and Winter Games (I guess that's what separates me from the athletes; I'm a couch potato, and they're out working their butts off). I'm a huge sports fan in general, and I love watching sports like diving and ski jumping that are only widely available to watch during the Olympics (unless, of course, you have the ultimate sports cable TV package).

The Olympics brings out the best in athletes, I think. There's a certain thrill to competing not as part of a money-hungry professional sports league (like the NHL), but as a representative of your entire country. And the Olympics are a time when it doesn't matter if you're a Detroit Red Wings fan or a Los Angeles Kings fan: we can come together and be fans of Team USA.

It's sentimental, I know, but I enjoy the notion that the Olympics can be a time of peace, goodwill, and harmony between nations. I believe that sports can transcend political divisions, although I've obviously been proven wrong multiple times in past Olympics (see: 1980 Moscow Games boycott and 1984 Los Angeles Games boycott).

So, I am obviously quite dismayed at some of the reactions from ice dance competitors in response to the results of the ice dance competition. Last night a Canadian pair won the gold and an American pair won the silver. This was only the third time since ice dance became an Olympic sport in 1976 that a Russian of Soviet couple has not won the gold. The U.S. also had back-to-back ice dance medals for the first time, and this 1-2 showing by Canada and the U.S. marked a turning point in ice dance competition. North America showed it was ready for the ice dance world stage.

What should have been a time for joyous celebration for Canada instead turned sour with accusations from other teams of a home-court bias from the judges. Athletes should be gracious whether they make it to the podium or not.

When I was participating in athletics at George School, we were taught to nurture healthy competition and good sportsmanship. All athletes, no matter what their level of play or the outcome of the game deserved respect. We were taught that it was ok to want to win and to want to do well, but we shouldn't sacrifice common decency and mutual respect. It made us not only better athletes, but better people in the long run.

I know that competing at the Olympics is a definitely a high-stress moment for athletes: who doesn't dream of Olympic gold? But to lose common decency and respect for fellow athletes is, in my opinion, disrespectful of your sport and disrespectful of the Olympic spirit.

I think if all athletes kept in mind those guiding principles like I was taught at George School, the Olympics of my dreams could become the Olympics of reality.

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Meet Gretchen Hall: Clerk of the Executive Secretary Search Committee

Last week marked the end of many Committee meetings here at FCNL and since we had so many people visiting the office, it gave me the chance to ask Gretchen Hall a few questions about her connections with FCNL and other things. As FCNL continues the process of searching for a new Executive Secretary Gretchen will continue her work with the organization as Clerk of the Search Committee. To see what Gretchen said, read on - this is your chance to get to know her a little bit better!

Q & A with Gretchen Hall, Clerk of the Executive Secretary Search Committee

R: How did you first get involved with FCNL?

G: Beyond the famous (then yellow) newsletter that I'd been reading since college, my first direct involvement with FCNL was in the mid-80s. I had recently lived in a poor, rural area of the country and felt deeply the difficulties and challenges faced by many of the residents of that and other rural areas. I found myself working with Ruth FLower as a Friend in Washington on agriculture and rural issues. At the time, a debt crisis had affected many farmers and rural dwellers. Some of our Friends in the mid-west thought FCNL should be addressing the issues that so pressed upon them. FCNL had the policy but not the people power to agree. One of the better legislative outcomes was the inclusion of mediation at the state level in the bill.

R: What’s exciting about working with FCNL right now?

G: FCNL is am amazing mix of steadfastness and nimble responses. All through the decades FCNL has stayed true to its lobbying purpose and has been faithful in witnessing to the priorities chosen by Friends. At the same time, the staff and grass-roots activists have an incredible capacity to find opportunities where we can jump in and make a difference right now.

R: What are your favorite books?

I could not possibly name a favorite book! Recently I've been re-reading the biography of Frederick Law Olmsted, A Clearing in the Distance. Currently on my reading pile is a volume of Mary Oliver's poetry, a book about curry, The Fourth Part of the World, and a recent Pendle Hill pamphlet. Of course there's a mystery lurking as well!

R: What’s your favorite FCNL memory?

G: One of my favorite FCNL memories is speaking to the General Committee as we concluded the 50th anniversary campaign in 1994. As I looked out into the group, I could recall visiting most of the Friends present over the three years of the campaign -- enjoying their hospitality, worshiping together, sharing their love for FCNL.

In peace,


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Rooting DC: Getting Grounded in the Local Urban Gardening Movement

Free food. That's the way to win over any intern's heart. And the promise of free food and intriguing workshops inspired me to get up early last Saturday and head to an event called "Rooting DC," an urban gardening/agricultural forum held annually in the Capital. I was excited by the broad range of topics covered in sessions; everything from cooking with vegetables to gardening advice to public policy was addressed. This comprehensive look at how to improve DC residents' access to healthy food and gardening opportunities was a big draw, with over 500 participants. The Field to Fork network of organizations dedicated to various aspects of sustainable urban agriculture in the metro area impressed me with a similar mentality to FCNL: every person can participate in the movement to better our quality of life and protect the environment. Whether you want to grow herbs on your apartment balcony, compost your leaves and kitchen scraps, or change the zoning codes that prevent groups and businesses from having gardens in the city, you can make a difference.

Though it's only February, this forum energized me to look into volunteer opportunities in the dirt during this upcoming growing season and encouraged me to daydream about the tasty local produce soon to be available at farmers' markets. For those readers who share an itch to grow things, Sharing Backyards is a nationwide program to match folks with land with people who want to garden, or if you live in the area, there are dozens of community gardens in the District. Many municipalities and towns have similar urban agriculture networks, so now is the time to investigate ways to promote food security and sustainable urban planning.

Curbing climate change and changing federal environmental policy are daunting tasks that FCNL is dedicated to, but seeking "an earth restored" includes small practical steps as well, like reducing waste, turning vacant spaces into green places, and making our homes and offices more eco-friendly. As a year long program assistant I get to show visitors around FCNL's innovative green building, and every day I am reminded of what a unique and great environment I work in. To shamelessly promote this opportunity further, I encourage anyone interested in our internship/program assistant program to learn more (applications are due March 9.)

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Taking a Stand Against Torture

How loud does your voice have to be for your message to be heard?

On February 17, a few brave students protested against John Yoo, who had appeared as a guest speaker at Johns Hopkins. In the middle of the talk, they stood up and unfurled a sign reading, "Try Yoo for Torture." Even though they were silent, their message was heard.

This bold act of civil disobedience challenged the dominant narrative that Yoo would have his audience believe. John Yoo, for those of you who may not be familiar with his name, is one of the authors of the "torture memos" that provided legal justification for the Bush administration to torture detainees suspected of terrorism. (You can read the torture memos here.) Yoo continues to teach at Berkeley and conducts speaking events where he insists that he has done nothing wrong.

FCNL responded to the release of the "torture memos" by calling for a Commission of Inquiry to investigate US-sponsored torture. In addition, we urge Congress to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay in a way that respects human rights.

Until these steps are taken, however, people like John Yoo are allowed to continue with business-as-usual. Even a recent Justice Department report, which human rights advocates had hoped would condemn Yoo's actions, has been a wash. The report did not find Yoo guilty of professional misconduct, even though his memos justified harsh interrogation techniques like waterboarding.

I am thankful for people like these brave students who offer constant reminders that justice has not yet been served. In their quiet and non-violent way, they take a stand against torture. How can you, in your own community, do your small part to urge others to think critically about the need for justice and accountability?

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Unmanned Drones: a war on civilians?

Part of my internship requires me to research various periodicals that pertain to nuclear weapons and missile defense. One such periodical is Defense Review, which claims to be a source of, “News and information on the latest military defense, law enforcement, and tactical technologies from around the world.” For anyone committed to non-violence, this is a frightening periodical. It seemed more like a Christmas catalog for weapons manufacturers and military leaders than a magazine.

When flipping through the pages, I came across an advertisement that particularly shocked me. It was an advertisement for Northrop Grumman’s unmanned systems, or drones, and it said, “Reduce the danger warfighters face. Increase the danger they pose.” My first thought was, what about the danger that civilians face?

Daniel Byman from Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies claims that for every militant killed by an unmanned drone, 10 civilians are killed. Approximately 600 civilians have already been killed by US drones in Pakistan alone. Byman added, “Beyond the humanitarian tragedy incurred, civilian deaths create dangerous political problems… US strikes that take a civilian toll are a further blow to its legitimacy -- and to U.S. efforts to build goodwill there.” Evidence of this is the retaliatory bombings to the drone attacks, which continue to kill civilians, some of them US citizens, in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

To be honest, Northrop Grumman’s slogan is pretty accurate. Their unmanned drones will continue to keep their operators and other warfighters safe. The operators usually pilot the drones from a bunker in Nevada or other remote locations, far from the battlefield. The unmanned drones will also continue to increase the danger warfighters pose. However, civilians are statistically the ones who face that danger more than enemy combatants.

Northrop Grumman’s slogan, and the concept of unmanned weapons, is sure to sell many drones. The prospect of reducing American casualties, while continuing the “war on terror,” would be tempting for politicians and military officials. However, with so many weapons systems in America’s arsenal that tend to kill civilians more than enemy combatants, how can we afford to increase the chances that we will continue this awful trend?

I must remind myself that weapons manufacturers and those who seek to profit from war have had much more experience at creating, marketing, and selling these weapons than I have had at trying to prevent their creation and usage. And, they have a much bigger budget than those of us committed to nonviolence do for stopping the spread of these weapons.

So, what does this mean for those of us who are committed to non-violence and prevention of war? In my opinion, it means that we must work even harder to expose the truths about these weapons and educate people about the real danger these weapons pose. There will never be a public outcry for the banning of such weapons until people become aware of the danger that they pose to civilians.

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